Look at me now

It seems avant garde feminism of the 1970s and a certain leader of the free world might have a closer connection than I first thought...

By: Clare Howdle,   2 minutes


“If like me, you are a tired feminist, this is a show that puts fire back in your veins.” Victoria Sadler, The Huffington Post

I am tired, Victoria. I am.

But Feminist Avant Garde of the 1970s exhibition at the Photographers Gallery didn’t have the desired effect. Don’t get me wrong, it was a challenging and thought-provoking insight into a time when the world was seriously stacked against being female (more so than today, in most parts of the world). These artists laid it on the line. Fuelled by white-hot fire they built, painted, filmed, posed and performed to get their point across. They confronted. They threatened and they would not back down.

Perhaps it was the cold. A chilling January afternoon still biting into my skin even as I climbed the stairs to the first floor of the Photographers Gallery. And the second. And the third. But I couldn’t feel that fire that Victoria Sadler promised. The stories about humiliation, degradation, repression, objectification that were being shouted at me from the walls didn’t make me feel defiant. They made me think about all the women, all the people, worldwide that are still experiencing those feelings, inflicted on them by others, but rather than burning with rage and pouring that onto a canvas or capturing it on celluloid they just absorb it, swallow it down and carry on as best they can.

These artists laid it on the line. Fuelled by white-hot fire they built, painted, filmed, posed and performed to get their point across.

It was overwhelmingly sad. And even though works like Nil Yalter’s The Headless Woman (Belly Dance) – where a woman’s stomach is inscribed with text to mirror an old Anatolian ritual of female humiliation – drew more on poetic exploration, or Martha Rosler’s seminal Semiotics of the Kitchen used subtle humour to make their mark, I couldn’t shake it. For me, this art wasn’t giving others a voice. Because the emotions of the artists were too loud for me to hear anyone else. I walked away with a ‘don’t ignore me,’ calling card, not a ‘we need to fight this,’ rallying cry.

And yet.

It hasn’t left me. I saw the exhibition a month ago, in its closing days, and I still think about it. Or more, I think about the people I didn’t hear in the exhibition, the others experiencing extreme prejudice, vilification and humiliation all around us, seeing our increasing reductive society in a more intense light than before.

Which does fire me up. And make me sad. And I suppose that spotlight wouldn’t be turned up for me if it hadn’t been for this handful of very angry women.

So maybe it did get me after all Victoria. Thanks for the recommendation.


Latest Stories