What Is Feminist Art?
Explore the ways artists from the past century have challenged gender roles and expectations.
Mar 8, 2022
For International Women’s Day, join us as we explore how six artists working across a century used feminist strategies: empowering themselves and advocating for others, taking charge of their self-expression, fostering bonds through collaboration, and pushing the boundaries of artistic mediums.
Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.
Consider the word “identity.” What does it bring to mind? Cahun used the word “mask” to talk about their identity. What words would you use to describe yours?
Hear from British author and filmmaker Juliet Jacques about the legacy of Claude Cahun’s creativity and resistance.
I painted my own reality.
Listen to artist and feminist Eva Luisa Rodríguez perform a spoken-word piece about Frida Kahlo.
Discover the relationship between art and identity through artworks by Kahlo and others.
Watch Curator Anne Umland discuss works by Kahlo and other 20th-century Surrealist women artists in the video below.
It doesn’t bother me. Whether it’s a craft or whether it’s art. That is a definition that people put on things.
Read Jillian Tamaki’s illustrated story about Asawa’s life.
Listen to three of Ruth Asawa’s six children discuss the artist’s process for making her looped wire sculptures in their family’s home.
Explore other women who made abstract art during the mid-20th century.
Try this activity inspired by Asawa’s prints of flowers.
Senga Nengudi. R.S.V.P. I. 1977/2003
I very much liked the idea of used pantyhose. Because when a woman wears pantyhose, she’s usually under extreme stress.
Senga Nengudi manipulates fabricated and natural materials in ways that invite audiences to explore their relationships to their bodies and each other. Nengudi began her career amid the Black Arts Movement, which promoted Black empowerment in the 1960s and ’70s through the arts and culture. During this time, she channeled her interests in Black identity, dance, Japanese culture, and spirituality into an art practice and brought R.S.V.P. I to life.
Made from pantyhose filled with sand, stretched and tethered to the walls, R.S.V.P. I mirrors what Nengudi calls the “elasticity” of women’s bodies, or their ability to stretch. This was influenced by her experience of changes to her body during pregnancy. Some of the pantyhose Nengudi used were “infused with the energy of the women that wore them.” In this way, R.S.V.P. I could be seen as a gathering—one you’d RSVP to—of the spirits of women who wore the nylons. Nengudi said, “...I find different ways to use materials others consider useless or insignificant providing proof that the disregarded and disenfranchised may also have the resilience and reformative ability to find their poetic selves.”5
Look closely at this image of Nengudi interacting with one of her R.S.V.P. sculptures. Notice what kinds of shapes or lines her body and the sculpture make. Think about how your body moves throughout the day, and how it occupies space in different ways.
Listen to Nengudi and her friend and collaborator Maren Hassinger talk about this work.
Consider R.S.V.P. I. with conservator Megan Randall as she reflects on how her life and connection to this artwork changed.
The women’s movement…rarely talk[s] about their expectations of women of color and all people of color, who frankly represent 85 percent of the planet.
Watch Pindell’s performance in Free, White and 21.
Listen to a discussion about video art and Free, White, and 21 in this episode of A Piece of Work.
Explore more of Pindell’s art and writings.
That is something that I want to scream from the mountain tops—how powerful and how knowledgeable the Indigenous women of the world are.
Try this activity and consider which personal objects you might surround yourself with if you were photographed like Wakeah. Where would your objects come from? What stories would they tell?
Listen to Romero discuss her journey to photography and an “inside joke” about Wakeah’s suitcase in the exclusive audio interview below.
Ways to keep learning
Close information gaps related to gender, feminism, and the arts on Wikipedia with Art+Feminism.
Watch artists, scholars, and other thought leaders discuss diverse feminisms on Feminist Art Coalition’s resources page.
Consider what ideas and stories lie behind other artworks in MoMA’s collection with our online course Modern Art & Ideas
Discover the ways women artists used photography as a tool of resistance in the forthcoming exhibition Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum.
What stereotypes or gender expectations do you see or experience in your community? What makes you feel empowered and why?
Reflect on these questions to make connections between your life and the ideas these artists explore. Share your thoughts with us by emailing [email protected].
Oral history interview with Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier, June 21–July 5, 2002, Smithsonian Archives of American Art, https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-ruth-asawa-and-albert-lanier-12222.
Howardena Pindell, “On Making a Video: Free, White and 21,” The Heart of the Question: The Writings and Paintings of Howardena Pindell (New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 1997), https://pindell.mcachicago.org/the-howardena-pindell-papers/on-making-a-video-free-white-and-21-1992.
“In My Own Words”: A Conversation with Ojore Lutalo and Bonnie Kerness
MoMA PS1 curator Josephine Graf talks with a formerly incarcerated artist and a prisoners’ rights advocate about activism, confinement, and revolutionary propaganda.
Jody Graf, Bonnie Kerness, Ojore Lutalo
Apr 1, 2021
Self-Portraits by Women Artists
A guide to five powerful self-portraits in MoMA’s collection
Mar 20, 2020