Multiple feminisms take center stage at BAMPFA

America’s culture wars have been particularly tumultuous of late, as warring factions engage in fierce battles over everything from race and religion to masks and vaccines – or even a photo of a seedy senator. and scowl was just a fun internet meme or a symbol of white privilege.

Some of these fronts are relatively new, while others – like the word “feminism” and what it means to be a feminist – have been the source of violent skirmishes for generations.

Over the past few weeks, feminist-related ideas have crept into debates over whether US troops should have stayed longer in Afghanistan – and even how the US first went to war there. place. Meanwhile, a new book by civil rights lawyer Rafia Zakaria, Against white feminism, fueled the start of a global discussion about whether white Western feminist leaders have imposed misguided actions on generations of people, including other feminists.

It is in this context that a new flagship art exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), “New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century”, debuts. The exhibition highlights – through photos, paintings, assemblages and other art forms – subjects of extreme importance to feminist ideals and realities.

It is not a regurgitation of feminist iconography. And this is not an introduction to feminist history. You won’t see a single portrait of Gloria Steinem. Or Audre Lorde. But you’ll see a bit of feminist art history in the form of smart, decades-old posters of the Guerrilla Girls, a group of anonymous activists who criticized museum curators for showcasing predominantly male artists. (Their best-known poster features a famous nude by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres with a werewolf mask and the title “Do women have to be naked to enter the Met. Museum?”, Then this: “Less of 5% of the artists of the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are women. ”)

And you’ll see at BAMPFA – in the very first gallery – images from the late 19th century that show the overwhelming roots of a slanderous trope that exists today, especially among arch-conservative men: Women have a nature. hysterical. Donald Trump has often made fun of women for their “hysteria” and “New Time” shows that a French neurologist named Jean-Martin Charcot defended these ideas by influencing Sigmund Freud and a host of other famous personalities who incorporated them. in their practices and ensured that these same ideas would live in the following centuries. Most of this first gallery is devoted to women artists, including that of Louise Bourgeois Arched figure – a 1993 sculpture of a headless man arching his back, with just a thin blanket over his genitals, in an implicit rebuttal of Charcot’s idea that only hysterical women could deform their bodies like his figure does .

Along with Kara Walker, Bourgeois is one of the best-known artists in the exhibition, but one of the strengths of the exhibition is its multitude of artists, styles and perspectives. We get quasi-abstractions like that of Amy Sillman Alice the Goon USA, a 2008 work that plays with overlapping shapes and colors but cleverly inserts a surreal skeletal arm with a fist – a reference to Popeye’s giant and androgynous character, Alice the Goon, who fought the eater comic book hero spinach and was one of the first mysteriously gendered cartoon characters.

And then there is that of Catherine Wagner Bust type (Female), a 2014 frame of six close-up photos of sculptural female busts from the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Unlike the male busts in the Museum of Rome, these busts are devoid of actual names. And the way Wagner photographed them, we only see the sculpted and grouped neck dresses of the bust – accentuating the anonymity of the figures throughout the ages. Like Sillman’s Alice the Goon USA, Bust type (Female) asks the viewer to do more than a preview. The preview, which occurs in museums as it does everywhere else, does these works of art a disservice. And in this way, the exhibition itself becomes a metaphor for feminist principles: by slowing down and, yes, spending time with the artwork, you begin to understand the important layers behind the art. By quickly browsing the many galleries, one discovers only the surfaces of the works.

“Artists examine some of the main socially ingrained issues of our time with the aim of understanding how the artists working today build upon, adapt, honor and distance themselves from the feminist works of previous generations,” said the curator of the exhibition Apsara DiQuinzio during the press preview. for “New time”.

DiQuinzio did more than just organize the exhibition: she founded a consortium called the Feminist Art Coalition, whose members – representing more than 100 museums and art institutions in the United States, including SFMOMA, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and others, such as the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, and the Tufts University Art Galleries, have engaged in “feminist-informed” art endeavors. The consortium’s emphasis on the plural form of the word reflects its belief that feminist thought and ideals have manifested in multiple feminisms and that art exhibitions should reflect this multiplicity of thoughts. The coalition has an implicit militant bent: it tries to launch “collaborations between artistic institutions that aim to publicize their commitment to social justice and structural change”.

But “New Time” is activism without dogmatism, even though the Feminist Art Coalition and “New Time” itself are a reaction to Trump’s 2016 election. DiQuinzio saw the potential for a coalition after the Women’s March that took place the day after Trump’s inauguration. The coalition’s series of exhibits were slated to begin in 2020 to coincide with the 2020 U.S. presidential election, but the pandemic and accompanying museum closures across the U.S. have delayed exhibits – which is why the opening of “New Time” by BAMPFA has been postponed until August 28.

Better late than never cause we see a track like Goshka Macuga’s Death of Marxism, women of all countries unite from 2013 and and RH Quaytman’s Parthian Tir, Chapter 31 (The Persian Women) from 2017. Death of Marxism, women of all countries unite is a kind of photographic tapestry that incorporates a life-size image of Marx’s tomb visited by a series of women, one of whom is naked and another who wears skimpy clothes. Why did bare-skinned women approach Marx’s London grave? They did not do it. Macuga pasted them from a series of surreptitious photos Czech photographer Miroslav Tichý took of unsuspecting women in the mid-20th century. She also added an extension of faux grass and discarded clothing that makes it look like we’ve stumbled across the stage – as if we’re witnessing a day when women reframe Marx’s appeal from her. Communist manifesto to unite. ”

Parthian Tir, Chapter 31 (The Persian Women), meanwhile, is Quaytman’s reinterpretation of Persian Women, a 17th-century painting by Austrian Otto van Veen that tells of a scene of women saving their village by revealing their nudity en masse to marauding soldiers, who do not not bear to watch. In his iteration, Quaytman blurs the scene and almost obscures the male soldiers on horseback, reducing van Veen’s microscopic detail on things like genitals into a larger dreamlike motif. While Quaytman retains the contours of van Veen’s women, they are less sexualized and their skin is less the focus of viewers’ gaze.

It’s no surprise that the art of “New Time” addresses the subject of sex, violence against women and the way women are presented and represented in culture. But there is so much more to “New Time” than these topics. Race is discussed in works like that of Ellen Gallagher Luxury, a giant mixed-media wall of photos, oils, cutouts and other material that incorporates black beauty magazines from previous decades. Body size is discussed in Laura Aguilar’s Based self-portraits, where she poses against large rock formations that resemble her naked and voluptuous figure. And gender roles are addressed in works like that of Chitra Ganesh Sultana’s dream, a sanctuary of linocuts resembling graphic novels that imagines a time when women ruled the world in scientific and intellectual fields.

Throughout history, through 140 works and 77 artists. What may not be evident through all of this are the conversations that art and artists essentially have with each other. They engage in dialogue, ask unanswered questions, and make entirely questionable statements. What if, as Ganesh imagines, women lead the world in scientific and intellectual fields? Where are the men in this world? In Sultana’s dream, which helps end the exposure, some of the men are where women have historically been: raising children and stepping away from the bubble of high-paying work. The historical roles have been reversed. It is not a world where men have disappeared. But it’s a world where men don’t run most things. And the people of this world certainly look satisfied.

New Time: Art and feminisms in the 21st century
Until January 30 at BAMPFA, 2120 Oxford St., Berkeley. $ 11 to $ 13, 510-643-3994, bampfa.org.

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