RESEARCH POINT – Forceful messages and feminist artists

Brief ; – Look at the work of these artists who exploited textiles as a medium to communicate their ideologies to raise issues

Definition of Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.

Many textile artists employ text within their work to express their own concerns and the concerns of society to a wider society covering issues such as environmental issues, poverty, war, domestic abuse and feminist issues. During the 1970’s feminists such as Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro and Faith Ringgold reclaimed the traditionally regarded low-status needlework crafts and utilised them to express politically charged issues of the time. The general view of the era was that textiles were considered as a mere decoration and associated with domesticity and femininity and as artists they challenged why textiles should be restricted to safe and therefore bland uncontroversial subjects.

JUDY CHICAGO, now recognized as a feminist artist began her career in the 1960’s, a time long before political correctness was established but it was during the 1970’s when she pioneered Feminist art by teaching and  encouraging women to explore their artistic abilities through the medium of art using the very meaning of being a woman. In 1974, she used women’s history as her inspiration and created her most well-known work “The Dinner Party”. This work was created over 5 years between 1974 and 1979 with the help of hundreds of volunteers, mainly women and with the goal to “end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women were written out of the historical record”

It is a provocatively feminist piece and is symbolic and celebratory of the lives and history of notable women in Western Civilization. Each of the 39 place settings are set in a large triangle and commemorates an historical or mythical female figure, such as artists, goddesses, activists and martyrs. The table runner is embroidered with the woman’s name and images or symbols relating to her accomplishments alongside the tableware items many of which feature a butterfly or flower like sculpture representing female anatomy. Many of the techniques and processes that were used were regarded as traditional female textile arts such as embroidery, sewing and china painting and by using them she was celebrating the craft and the skills required to execute them.  She was therefore making a statement about these techniques and claiming they should be more culturally valued and appreciated akin to the male-dominated fine arts.

Judy Chicago “The Dinner Party” 1974 - 1979

Judy Chicago “The Dinner Party” 1974 – 1979

During the 80’s Judy Chicago collaborated with over 150 needle workers to create The Birth Project. The piece used images of childbirth to celebrate woman’s role as mother and the various aspects of the birth process.

JUDY CHICAGO "Hatching the Universal Egg - Birth Power” from the Birth Project 1984

JUDY CHICAGO “Hatching the Universal Egg – Birth Power” from the Birth Project 1984

Her career has explored and celebrated the role of women within society and throughout history. Now in her 70’s she still remains committed to women’s right of freedom of expression through art and being able to engage in art at the highest level

Ref – – the Dinner Party

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RADKA DONNELL is recognised as a feminist and one of the most important and influential quilt makers of the past 40 years. She was one of the first academically trained artists to take a feminist stance and adopt the quilt as her preferred medium in which to work. She spoke of quilt making as a Liberation issue and explored what quilts could look like and could mean and in doing so she challenged both traditional quiltmakiing and the fine arts establishment with her visually powerful work. Her quilts are distinguished by a bold, painterly, abstract expressionist approach with the use of colour, line and pattern. She chose not to use the familiar small scaled prints but combined large scale printed fabrics that were cut in irregular and unusual shapes to create graphically bold patterns for her original style of art. For this reason she has been described as being ahead of her time with her freeform approach as her quilts broke many of the “rules” of how quilts had been created for over 200 years in terms of not conforming to grids or symmetry.

Having moved away from fine arts she stayed with quilt making throughout her 40 year career and is quoted to have said it helped her to “find wholeness and to be open to enjoy, advise, and validate the creativity of other women”

Radka Donnell “Extravaganza” Quilt

Radka Donnell “Extravaganza” Quilt

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JANN HAWORTH is one of the few female artists involved in the original British Pop Art movement of the 1960′s and is known as a female artist who “stood up and said take notice” as she encountered the misogyny that was so rife in the art world of the 60′s. She was known to have said “one of the maxims of modern art is that art is dead, but women haven’t even spoken yet” and since then gender has held its fascination for her and she has never wavered in her right to equal recognition.

Her enormous contribution to the Pop Art movement started in1961 when she had moved from California to study Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art and also Studio Art at the Slade School of Fine Art. Slade, being a very conservative and male dominated institution, provoked Haworth’s rebellious artistic nature and it was here that her aesthetic sense was first established when she began experimenting with sewn and stuffed sculptures. Her use of soft materials was unprecedented at the time and her pioneering work and approach soon meant she became an innovative leading figure of the British pop art movement which in turn led to the international Pop Art Movement. She has described her use of sewing and textiles as being “the language of women”, using her work to promote what had been considered for too long, and therefore overlooked by her male counterparts, a female dominated  artistic medium. It was Haworth who produced the first ever life-size soft figures of the Pop movement. She made still life items such as flowers and doughnuts but then progressed to other sculptures such as her now iconic “Old Lady” sculpture and other life-sized figures. Her work often contained specific references to American culture and to Hollywood in particular this being her heritage before she came to London. It appears her contribution to the art world is considerable as not only was she one of the few female pioneering artists of a very significant art  movement but her drive to promote the qualities of a “female” artistic medium and for it to be considered more seriously is also immense.

Jann Haworth “Old Lady” soft sculpture 1962

Jann Haworth “Old Lady” soft sculpture 1962

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Ref – Book “Contemporary Textiles” – Black Dog Publishing

SHELLY GOLDSMITH is slightly different. In my opinion her work and message has a more subtle approach. Possibly as it’s 40 years later than the others and we are encouraged to think more and make our own interpretations now.

Information through the internet all appears to be the same without any statements by Goldsmith herself to clarify her work or to make her message known. Neither did I gather much from the books that I consulted (see below). I’m not entirely sure I would classify her approach to textile art as feminist as I did not find any evidence that the marks on her “Stain series “collection of work for example (as I found this to be the closest link) referring to any feminist issues particular. Goldsmith chooses to use reclaimed clothing (some with an inherent story, some with an unknown history) and considers how a garment can reflect the shape of its once wearer but also carry the emotional psychological scars, or stains in this instance, of life. She cleverly uses ink blots similar to Rorschach tests, a Psychology text for amongst other things assesses a person’s emotional functioning to represent these lasting emotions that we all carry with us throughout life. The clothing is female and the ink blots stains represent some emotion, the one placed over the heart to signify heart ache possibly and then also the ones on the skirt perhaps, I’m guessing, linked to menstrual cycles but neither of these indicate domestic violence, that being an issue for a feminist to speak up against but merely issues that women experience. Maybe this is sufficient for her work to be considered feminist in its approach as she solely uses female clothing rather than a mix to bring home a message of sexual discrimination. If the concept is simply to convey the intensity of emotions then an ink blot “broken heart” on a man’s shirt would be just as poignant. Perhaps more so.

SHELLY GOLDSMITH “Erupted” from the Stain series of works 2008 Sublimation print on reclaimed garment

SHELLY GOLDSMITH “Erupted” from the Stain series of works 2008
Sublimation print on reclaimed garment

SHELLY GOLDSMITH from the Stain Series of artworks

SHELLY GOLDSMITH from the Stain Series of artworks

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Ref – Book “Cloth and culture now” – edited by Lesley Millar

Ref – Book “Textiles today “Chloe Colchester

Ref – General information on text in textiles. Book by Sara Impey “Text in textile art”


This entry was posted in LEVEL 2 - P3 - Working from museums - Project - Storytelling with imagery and text, LEVEL 2 - P3 - Working from museums - Project - Storytelling with imagery and text - Exercise - Telling a story, LEVEL 2 - P3 - Working from museums - Project Storytelling with imagery and text - Research point - Feminist artitsts, LEVEL 2 - TEXTILES 2 : Contemporary Practice and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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