Watching American artist Lynn Hershman Leeson’s 2010 documentary film !Women Art Revolution was a fabulous and inspiring light during my COVID-19 quarantine. Amidst what has felt like a cyclical entrapment in the mundane world of waking up, coffee, homework, bed, repeat, Leeson’s film sheds light on the inspiration of the artists of the 20th century Women’s Liberation movement and reminded me that there is a lot of good in this world that is worth fighting for; in this case, the liberation and appreciation of female artists. Leeson’s film compiles interviews of artists, historians, curators, and many other witnesses to the complexities of the movement, including herself, and focuses on their involvement in the modern female artist coalition titled W.A.R. (Women Art Revolution). These women were dedicated to challenging the male-dominated art sphere and ensuring that female artists were not only heard but encouraged.
Leeson begins her film with a significant question: Why was it necessary for these women to do this? To the surprise of some, but definitely not all, the answer to this does not always come easily. In fact, Leeson even hints towards the idea that most male artists of the time didn’t see a problem with how women were represented in the professional art sphere. Luckily, through the clear and compelling work of Leeson and through her interviews with female members of the art community, she shares what brought her and the other members of W.A.R. to devote their life, energy, and skills to this fight. One artist even shares that the pivotal moment for her before formally entering the art revolution was when she had the degrading and humiliating experience of proposing her work to a male museum curator and, despite his office having many art stands, he deliberately prompted her to show him her work on the floor. She distinctly remembers turning the pages of her work, almost simulating the motion of genuflecting. It’s almost comical how clearly this scene reflects the male-dominated micropolitics of the modern art sphere. And, sadly, this kind of treatment isn’t unfamiliar to most women, including those outside of the art community. Needless to say, these women had been pushed to the edge, and quickly, as Nancy Spero describes, a chorus became a movement, which soon became a revolution.
Judy Chicago, Nancy Spero, Faith Wilding, Judith Baca are just a few of the many featured in Leeson’s film. These inspiring women detail their work and success protesting the less than 5% of female artists displayed at the Whitney, creating a feminist art program at Fresno State University, establishing the A.I.R. gallery (being the first all-female and non-binary cooperative gallery in the United States) and opened up many more opportunities and spaces for women of all kinds to discover their experiences as women and create art from their unique personal perspectives.
The work of these strong women along with the many others who contributed to the movement and all of its success is an inspiration. I highly recommend this film as it was entertaining not only in its stimulus, but the featured paintings, sculptures, and artistic films of these women were brilliant, nuanced, and above all, a profound escape from daily life in quarantine. In fact, it has inspired me to break out my paints from the back of my family’s pantry and do my best attempt at accessing a similar vein of creativity and self-expression as the women of W.A.R and, hopefully, produce some kind of insight into a woman’s life in quarantine.
!Women’s Art Revolution is available to stream through Dickinson College’s access to Kanopy.
Written by Lizzy Parry ’21, WGRC student worker
April 20, 2020