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Achieving Authentic Equality

A white T-shirt I have reads in hand-written black marker, “NAME 10 FEMALE ARTISTS & WILL GIVE YOU A KISS.” Artist Nicole Nadeau made the shirt for the “Clitney Perennial,” a rogue art intervention I initiated at the Whitney Biennial this year. Joined by an army of collectives and individuals and endorsed by notable activist artists, Guerrilla Girls and Suzanne Lacy, we sought to raise awareness about the chronic lack of gender parity in this hallmark exhibition. Almost no one I encounter when wearing this shirt can easily name 10 female artists. This is disappointing, not only because I enjoy a good kiss, but because a deep discontent takes over with each failure to compile even 10 familiar names; taken together, they underscore the institutionalized misogyny behind the unsupported work and ultimate invisibility of so many artists. The art world has a “kill or be killed” ecology sustained by an unregulated market. An audience comprised of a closed system of its own cognoscenti and collectors, along with public and private organizations, institutions and businesses, “advance” contemporary art.  The art world, if left to its own devices, will not self-correct this imbalance.

I was recently asked by an arts educator why the feminist movement is shaped in cycles and waves; repeatedly progress is gained and subsequently lost. My best answer comes from reading the radical feminist scholar, Mary Daly. In Gyn/Ecology (1978) she elaborates on the destruction of the Goddess Culture and the rise of patriarchal values in the West. As long as these values dominate, the feminist movement will continue to ebb and flow; profound restructurings are the only way to secure progress. This month Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg reflected publicly on the Court’s recent rulings. She told the New York Times, “[The court has never fully] embraced the ability of women to decide for themselves what their destiny will be.” She said the court’s five-justice conservative majority, all men, did not understand the challenges women face in achieving authentic equality. Ginsberg’s observations are evidence that Daly’s writings continue to be relevant even in the U.S., where women are thought to enjoy great freedom.

The subject of feminism in the art world is like a dense clot of twisted roots, partly because of the intricacies of the art world and partly because feminism as a movement has its own complexities. The foundational structure for feminist art grew strong and deep in the late ’60s, during feminism’s second wave. I know about Daly’s book, which was written in 1975, not from an assigned reading list, but through a recent conversation with Lacy as part of my work with Girls Against God, a feminist arts print magazine. Lacy’s work has both been shaped by and helped to shape feminist ideas within the context of contemporary art. Immanence, or the shared word between women, is the cornerstone of Lacy’s art, and she attributes Daly’s writing as an inspiration for her work.

In the fall of 2012, after it was green-lighted by Sophie Mörner of Capricious, the musician, writer and visual artist, Bianca Casady invited me to work with her on GAG; I welcomed Casady’s invitation. Looking back over the last two years, GAG is one point of convergence for feminism’s current “fourth wave.” During the winter and spring of 2013 my world opened up to this resurgence of feminist thought, characterized by its embrace of cross-generations, and addressing the prior exclusions based on gender preferences and race. The rise of political and religious conservatism, as well as increased economic pressures are behind the renewed activism tapping into the body as source and destination for meaning. It fuels the work of Pussy Riot, Femen, Go! Push Pops, Future Feminists, YAMS, Slutist, Moon Church, Cliteracy, FlucT, Witches of Bushwick, La Barbe in France—among many others—and this editorial focus for the Rail.

Feminist actor, producer, and writer Amy Poehler recently observed, “I used to say that I wanted to make great art with people I love. Now I have an addendum to that goal: to get things on the air.” Women need more access to the channels of distribution for their work in order to combat invisibility. My work with GAG and other programs for outreach are geared to generate discussion and spark personal activism, even on the smallest scale.

My own individual art practice is tied to my involvement with feminism’s fourth wave, as evidenced in my solo show, “Stadia,” at Susan Eley Fine Arts in the winter of 2013, and concurrent collaborative projects and performances such as Lacy’s “Between the Door and the Street,” jointly produced by Creative Time and The Brooklyn Museum; GAG’s “Wolf Moon Gathering” at MoMA PS1; “Sacred Nipples Video Screening and Discussion” at the Last Brucennial; the “Clitney Perennial” at the Whitney Biennial; and an upcoming Lower East Side group show and performance program, “Milk and Night,” at Gallery Sensei this month. Swimming upstream against patriarchal society makes for good company. The collective D.I.Y. actions are proven methods. Speaking your mind is one way to honor the Goddess. Getting time on stage to broadcast your ideas is even more important.

Contributor

Anne Sherwood Pundyk

Anne Sherwood Pundyk, is a painter and writer based in Manhattan and Mattituck, NY. Embedded in her painting, art books, video, installation, and performance are her own essential stories. These overlap with older tales such as myths and fables; in so doing, her narratives begin to communicate to others an inaudible truth of the inner self. www.annepundyk.com

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