Home Arts I am woman, hear me roar

I am woman, hear me roar

by The Concordian November 29, 2011
I am woman, hear me roar
Prejudice is a bizarre thing: entire generations can be characterized by it, or by their fight against it, but subsequent generations often forget just how recently the world was a less tolerant place.
So it’s always interesting to be reminded of the equalities our generation too frequently
take for granted.
Lynn Hershman Leeson’s !Women Art Revolution or !WAR—and it really is her film here: she is writer, director and editor—reminds its viewer that blatant male chauvinism dominated not only households, but also seemingly liberal institutions like art, as recently as the late 1970s and early 1980s. And while the film offers little in the way of technical prowess or
style, it provides as much of an education as could fit into its lean 82-minute runtime.
An early sequence in the film shows Leeson near various art galleries, asking a simple question of passersby: can you name three female artists? The editing of the scene leaves enough blank space to guarantee that viewers will attempt to answer the query, and in a rare moment in film, be as embarrassed as Leeson’s targets.
Inevitably, everyone begins with brash confidence, jumping at the opportunity to mention Frida Kahlo, assuming the rest of the answers will flow out as easily as the first. And then, just as inevitably, they are stumped. This is a useful launching point for the documentary, as it clearly illustrates just how under-publicized female artists have, and continue, to be.
Leeson then takes us back to the early 1960s, when organized effort for social change was at its zenith, to show how this ignorance of female artists is a result of institutional denial rather than a lack of eligible artists.
Running parallel to the more visible demonstrations—the Civil Rights marches, the
Black Panthers, and the New Left—was a group of female artists fighting against an
establishment that actively denied female participation. This group of women responded by
creating a group, which they named Women Artists in Revolution, and created highly political
feminist art.
In a time where minimalist art, which actively eschewed any political meaning, was
dominant, this aggressive feminist art was shocking. And the women involved were more than
happy to turn heads and create discomfort within the establishment.
Eventually their work even spurred a now infamous debate in Congress. When Judy
Chicago’s piece “The Dinner Party” arrived for a showing in Washington D.C., it created a storm
within the conservative elements of Congress. The work was, and remains, provocative: 39
dinner plates, arranged in a triangle, each representing a significant woman in history through a
highly explicit symbolic vulva.
While it’s unsurprising this created a storm, the attention it received in Congress is shocking. Ninety minutes of old men delivering incensed, and largely narrow-minded, denunciations of the work actually resulted in it being banned from exhibition in the District of Columbia. This is but one of many moments in !WAR that cause viewers to shake their heads in disbelief.
While the film’s breadth of material and pedagogical power are impressive, it is technically choppy and suffers from a raw style characterized by inexperience. But like many documentaries, as opposed to narrative films, it’s more than worth ignoring the film’s lack of
aesthetic prowess to revel in its content.
Leeson compiled an astounding 52,000 minutes of film across decades, and the 82-minute fresco she distills from this gives much needed publicity and credit to a movement that, for some reason, has been sidelined in our collective memory of feminism.
!WAR is showing on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. at 1455 de Maisonneuve, room H-110. For more information, go to www.cinemapolitica.org/concordia.

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