Written as part of my participation in The International Arts Journalism Institute in the Visual Arts | JUNE 10 – 26,09| American University| Washington D.C
From the open doors of the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore, it’s hard to identify the sculpture material, it’s only while approaching that the big colorful form is revealed: a ball of Bras! Thousands of bras stretched, rolled and attached to form a huge multicolored ball. “ this ball made by women contributions, they come and give us their bras, each one has a story, a women story. Some of these have a happy story, like this is the one I wore when I have been kissed for the first time, and some others have a bad one, like this is the one that I wore when I got raped, etc.” , I still remember Rebecca A. Hoffberger, founder and director of the museum, saying.
This ball kept haunting my thoughts many days after our visit to the museum. It aroused strong feelings on me as a symbol of solidarity, sympathy and compassion between women. But is this artwork can be considered as “Feminist” one?! And what is a feminist artwork by the way? And what feminist artists represent now after almost four decades from the start of the feminism’ movement in the United States? This is a question that Dr Elizabeth Sackler didn’t find any difficulty answering: a feminism art is an art which create a dialogue about feminism issues, which stands for equality, quality and justice. Dr Sackler, feminist activist, won’t find any problem to identify herself with the feminism ideology, an ideology that many of her generation embraced, yet many of the 21st century generation is questioning.
It was by late 90’s that she thought to establish a center for feminism art, which took place in the Brooklyn Museum, to which she donated Judy Chicago’“The Dinner Party” as a permanent exhibition since 2007. The impressive “Dinner Party” is an installation artwork exalting the accomplishments of thirty nine feminine figures. It was produced from 1974 to 1979 as collaboration and was first exhibited in 1979. Thirty nine guests of honor, thirty nine place setting featuring a table runner embroidered with each woman’s name and images or symbols relating to her accomplishments, with a napkin, utensils, a glass or goblet, and a plate. Thirty nine Porcelain plates featuring, more or less, different forms of a vagina? Why reducing the women accomplishments to a vagina?. This is a controversial discussion raised between critics at that time and still does.
My confusion is aroused from a totally different point: why not considering the art work realized by a woman is just an art work? Why isolating and categorizing the women creativity? Are these just some naïve questions raised by a “post feminist” young woman like myself? This is how a journalist friend categorizes me. A “Post Feminist”, I’m relieved at last I belong to a “category”! I’m this young woman who belongs to the generation taking women rights as granted. Although, coming from Egypt, a conservative, patriarchal judged society, I still don’t understand why women still need to distinguish their arts from the rest of the American art scene?. “ 70% of students of Arts Schools are women, only 15% of them are showed in galleries and arts spaces”, explains Dr Sackler. But are the women are the only marginalized segment of the American arts society?
“You will be surprised, how the art scene in America is not that liberal!”, insists Greg Tale, journalist and curator of the exhibition “Négritude” at Exit Art Gallery, an alternative art space in New York. In a large star shaped pool, with land and cane planted, the visitor has to navigate his paper ship. And in further pool of sugar with black background, he has to write his name to know How much black in his name!
Exit art gallery claims as mission to “Represent all the underrepresented artists who are not enough recognized”. What kind of Arts can be underrepresented in America, the symbol of freedom to the oriental and conservative societies? There are many segments of the American society are still need to distinguish themselves, reclaim more exposure and freedom. The American art scene is controlled by the Anglo-Saxon communities, explains the curator.
If coming to the states to assist to the International Arts Journalism Institute Visual Arts Institute held in the American University, was supposed to answer some of my questions and to clear up my confusion about the American identity, culture and arts, it did nothing but increasing the confusion and the questions.
With 24 Americans and international journalists, we made the tour of 34 museum, arts space and galley in two weeks. We did it as we said back home when we describe something fast and superficial, we did it “by the American way”, a very judgmental and naïve perception regarding the American culture. May be fast, but nothing is superficial about this culture. Rich and complicated, will be also a naïve and superficial impression to have after the intense experience of the institute. Breaking the stereo-types and the clichés, I would say, it would be a good start to deep analysis to a very varied and controversial culture like the American one