Campbell Hall presented Lynn Hershman-Leeson’s somewhat autobiographical documentary “! Women Art Revolution,” an exploration film about the feminist art movement, as part of the Human Rights Film Festival last week. In the film, intimate interviews reveal the feelings of key players in the restructuring of feminist art during the 1960s.
The film opens with a scene depicting random people struggling to answer a simple challenge: “Name three women artists.” Every single person interviewed failed to meet the challenge. Even I — someone who has taken and passed an art history course — could not answer. This successfully made the point of how uneducated people are concerning women artists.
The documentary goes on to describe the long and difficult journey of the women’s art revolution. Alongside the women’s art movement, the film also conveys other important issues that occurred during this era, such as the Kent State shootings and Nixon’s decision of moving troops into Cambodia. This full embodiment of the time period helps explain the themes explored in the women’s art realm.
The film does not sugarcoat the movement or claim it was all good. Instead, the documentary presents both the successes and failures of female artists. Leeson criticizes the harsh minimalism in the beginning of the women’s art realm, by accusing it of being “devoid of thought” and “mute” in a time of grave agitation. She also recognizes some of the most publicized spokespersons of the women’s art movement, the Guerrilla Girls. However, she does not excuse them from the apathetic stance they took concerning the suspicious death of Ana Mendieta, another female performance artist.
In the battle for women artists’ rights, women sacrificed much more than their time and energy. In many of the interviews, the women artists address personal issues like failed marriages and rape. The interviews evoked much emotion as these women poured their hearts out with passion and strong conviction for pursuing the arts.
The film also features live footage of performance art and demonstrations, so the viewer witnesses the entire revolution unfold. At the end, it pays homage to all recently deceased artists featured.
Ultimately, the film ends in victory when it depicts WACK!, a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art that solely displayed the works of feminist artists. Still, the fight for the recognition of women in the artistic community continues.