PRINT October/November 2020



Marwa Arsanios, Have you ever killed a bear? or Becoming Jamila, 2013–14, HD video, color, sound, 25 minutes. From “Nine Lives,” 2020, Renaissance Society, Chicago.

THEY SAY WE’RE STRONGER TOGETHER. That we’re the most important political force in the nation. That feminism is the future. What would it take to make these platitudes—touchstones from August’s Democratic National Convention—meaningful during a complete economic and social catastrophe and under a pandemic that has all but extinguished any faith left in already attenuated notions of universality and progress?

Conceived in the wake of the 2017 Women’s March, the Feminist Art Coalition is a call to action that encompasses climate change, decolonization, racial justice, Indigenous struggles, diasporic experiences, gender identities, sexuality, and body politics by going beyond bromides to display feminism at work: through the organizing of exhibitions, the building of museum collections, and public programming. At the time of this writing, 103 US institutions had signed on to (safely) participate in the FAC. Nearly forty had confirmed that their proposals will go forward this fall, while more shows and events were being extended into 2021. These plans, combined with pressure from recently formed groups such as #ForTheCulture and @ChangeTheMuseum, could play a constructive role in the reckoning already under way in American art institutions. As Aldeide Delgado, founder and director of the Women Photographers International Archive and member of the coalition’s steering committee, told me, the FAC “signals a turning point within the predominately white masculinist politics of the museum space.”

The scale of the FAC is already impressive: Mono-graphic exhibitions will feature Andrea Bowers, Judy Chicago, Virginia Jaramillo, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Gladys Nilsson, Lorraine O’Grady, Howardena Pindell, Alison Saar, Ruby Sky Stiler, and Hannah Wilke. Thematic group shows include “Witch Hunt,” a survey of midcareer feminist artists, at the Hammer Museum and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; “Upkeep,” which is devoted to the politics and aesthetics of care, at the Arts Club of Chicago; “Don’t Let This Be Easy,” a treasure trove of works by women from the collection at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; “Never Done: 100 Years of Women in Politics and Beyond” at Skidmore College’s Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery in Saratoga Springs, New York; and “New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century” at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Some institutions—including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, and the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—are dedicating their entire footprint to feminist exhibitions. To top it all off, the FAC will offer symposia, lectures, performances, and commissions, such as Dicen que cabalga sobre un tigre (They Say She Rides a Tiger, 2019–20), a film by Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York; “Life on Earth: An Ecofeminist Art Symposium” at LAXART in Los Angeles; and an installation by Maya Lin at the Madison Square Park Conservancy in New York.

After decades of mockery, dismissal, and misogynist backlash, feminist art has found a place in even our most conservative cultural institutions.

The project is one way of holding us accountable: to make us see the connections among centuries of colonial, patriarchal, and capitalist oppression and continue to wage war on those systems. I asked BAM/PFA curator and FAC steering-committee member Apsara DiQuinzio to elaborate on the struggle that lies ahead: “The pandemic and the racial-justice movements occurring around the world have made it very clear that we can’t go back to the way things were,” she said, adding, “Feminist principles—such as equality, nonviolence, compassion, environmentalism, and care—help us to realign and adjust our cultural norms and outmoded ways of thinking.”

They long have. In January 2007, I attended the Museum of Modern Art’s crowded two-day symposium “The Feminist Future” in New York, which asked what the movement would look like going forward—in art, scholarship, and politics—and what “postfeminist” critiques of the 1980s and ’90s would amount to. (I’ll never forget Lucy Lippard’s riposte: “We’ll be postfeminists when our goals have been met, and not before.”) The year seemed hopeful for feminist-art exhibitions, including “WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, but the mood in the room wasn’t quite. What I remember most from the event were the wonderfully sharp and skeptical questions posed by many in the audience, among them, “Is the future of feminism the institutionalization of feminism?”

The ensuing thirteen years have looked a lot like that. After decades of mockery, dismissal, and misogynist backlash, feminist art has found a place in even our most conservative cultural institutions. With the FAC, we’ll see how all this looks en masse across the country and in dissimilar spaces. The trick—as ever, for feminism—is whether this union will pull everyone up or just a privileged few.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler is a writer, editor, and educator based in New York.