The images here are all of works made by feminist artists in Britain between 1969 and 1983. They include Monica Sjoo’s God Giving Birth to the World (banned by Swiss Cottage Library in London as obscene and blasphemous), Margaret Harrison’s hard-hitting conceptual piece Rape, the Feministo postal art project Portrait of the Artist as a Housewife and Lubaina Himid’s We Will Be. I used these slides regularly in teaching, trying to give students a sense of an art practice that connected to a wider feminist politics. And I can remember the excitement of discovering much of this work first time around as an Art History student, realising that it was possible for women artists to take control of their own image, just as women were beginning to take control of their own lives in so many other areas.
The slides on this sheet speak to each other; reading across, vertically, diagonally you perceive new relationships between the works depicted. Thinking about an image in this way puts it back into a history – or indeed many histories, depending on how you read… And this multiplicity of images and the politics that impel them also evokes an important feature of feminist art practice in the 1970s and early 80s. This was about strength and solidarity as part of a collective politics, rather than the often futile quest for achievement within a gallery system that systematically discriminated against women.
I find it heartbreaking to think that these images could soon end up on a skip with all the others. They bring to life a time when we knew we could change the world. Perhaps we still can.
Reader in Art History
Manchester School of Art