Feminist Avant Garde of the 1970s at the Photographer’s Gallery

The Photographer’s Gallery, located in a small lane just off Oxford Street, has three exhibitions on at the moment including one called ‘Feminist Avant Garde of the 1970s’, which immediately grabbed my attention and made me decide to go and see it. The exhibition is a collection of photographs, videos, collages and performances which were all made by pioneering feminist female artists in the 1970s. As I walked into the first room I was immediately absorbed by what I saw, and then went from piece to piece and room to room without ever getting bored, having quite a selection of different mediums to look at.

A lot of the work was about condemning misogyny and sexism through images that show the ways in which women are belittled, objectified and sexualised by patriarchy. In that sense, one could feel how dated second wave feminism is compared to today’s era of post-feminism. I think today an exhibition about feminist art would have been more focused on spitting on the patriarchy and empowering women rather than simply demonstrating that women are slaves to society, full stop. It was interesting to go back in time through this exhibition and be able to see how feminists responded to American/western society in the 70s, although quite frustrating because I was expecting to see a part of the exhibition that would show women overthrowing the government and liberating themselves from society’s oppressive expectations, but was left a little disappointed.

Also a very important point to raise was that the great majority of the exhibition showed no evidence of inclusion of women of colour or LGBTQ women in their definition of ‘feminism’. I think The Photographer’s Gallery should have been aware that they were obscuring the work of many women when they decided to only expose the work of white women. The names of Adrian Piper and Betye Saar (whose mixed media work includes collage) could be added to the list of artists who have produced work in the 70s that is closely linked to feminism and to fighting racial stereotypes, which is an integrant part of feminism. I believe there should have been a space in the exhibition for them. The Gay Liberation movement was also happening at the same time as the Feminist movement in the 1970s, which is no coincidence as the feminist movement created more visibility for gay women and gave them more freedom to be open about their sexuality, it would’ve therefore made sense to include some of their work in the collection, like Cathy Cade’s work for example. I think Feminist Avant Garde of the 1970s is an important exhibition to go and see to anyone who wants to learn about the history of feminism but they should keep in mind that the history of women of colour and of LGBTQ women is part of that history.

Adrian Piper, Wet Paint, 1970
Betye Saar, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, 1972
Cathy Cade, 1973


Reference list

Pizzo, J. (2014) 20 Important African-American Female Artists of the 20th century. Available at: http://uk.complex.com/style/2014/02/african-american-female-artists/ (Accessed: 03/12/16)

Spence, R. (2010) How women artists fought back in the ’70s. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/c181e85e-27e0-11df-9598-00144feabdc0 (Accessed: 03/12/16)

Cade, C. http://www.cathycade.com (Accessed: 03/12/16)


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