Judy Chicago / The Fearless Leader of Feminist Art
In the Spring of 1971, an American artist named Judy Chicago was teaching a radical class at Fresno State University that allowed women to explore what it meant to be women, and more specifically, what it meant to be women artists. During her time at Fresno State, Chicago met art student Faith Wilding and invited her to co-create a feminist art class – one that was full-time commitment, off-campus, and completely removed from the male dominated university. Fifteen women joined forces under Chicago and Wilding to physically build a space that cultivated a culture in which female artists could flourish, and the first feminist art program was born.
The Feminist Art Program studied ancient female deities and other empowered women throughout history. The program functioned as a type of group therapy inside a collaborating art collective, with wrap sessions to share experiences of growing-up in a patriarchy as women. Much of the art created in this program was centered around female sexual organs. The 1972 project titled Womanhouse was no exception; Chicago and her students turned every room of a Hollywood mansion into a feminist installation. This was the first project produced after the Feminist Art Program moved to the California Institute of the Arts in the Fall of 1971 (the class was continued by others at Fresno State until 1992). Judy Chicago ended her feminist education career at male-dominated universities in 1973 by opening the Feminist Studio Workshop – one of the first independent art schools for women.
You may know Judy Chicago from her installation The Dinner Party, an iconic feminist piece. It’s as relevant today as it was when it was created in the late 1970s (I most recently saw it make an appearance in an episode of Master of None). The Dinner Party literally sets a place for women in the form of the female anatomy, and makes a powerful argument for the importance of unfairly relegated feminine artistic practices. Although this piece is quite monumental, it’s worth noting The Dinner Party overwhelmingly represents a white feminist viewpoint, and assumes a heteronormative orientation.
Judy Chicago, Womanhouse, and the Feminist Art Program leave legacies of pioneering new technologies. Performance, collaborative work, and conceptual work existed before Chicago, but she pushed them further instead of elevating what was already being created.
Here’s to women who create art, space, and platforms that push the conversation further. Happy International Women's Day!