!WAR: ! Women Art
Available soon on ZeitgeistFilms
Imagine wandering through an art gallery, ignoring the art and instead tallying the number of female artists on display. It may seem strange, but that’s exactly what a group of women did in the late 1960s. Their findings—that women had been almost completely excluded from the gallery system—were not entirely surprising.
The group formed a coalition, Women Artists in Revolution, and the feminist art movement was born. For the next 40 years, artist Lynn Hershman Leeson recorded snippets of it, documenting art by women and interviewing any female artists, curators and art historians she could find. Leeson accumulated over twelve thousand minutes of video and archived nearly one thousand still images. !WAR is the condensed version of this lively history.
The documentary’s main strength lies in putting feminist artwork into context. “You have to ask yourself why it was necessary for [feminist artists] to do this in the first place,” says Leeson. Through archival footage and interviews, !WAR illustrates just how difficult it was for women (who have since become the foundation for feminist art practice) to get into galleries, much less art history books.
“As an undergraduate at Harvard University [in the early 1980s],” says art historian Amelia Jones, “I don’t think there was a single woman artist whose work was discussed in any one of my classes.” Thankfully, things have changed. !WAR shows how women exposed and subverted the system that decides what artwork gets recognized and remembered. In revealing this, the documentary becomes more engaging than any textbook chapter on the feminist movement.
Anyone who lived this movement will enjoy !WAR, but those that didn’t are the ones who most need to watch it. We need to see life breathed back into feminism, see its passion and creative problem-solving made contagious. We need to be reminded that feminism was once cool and, though gains have been made, the fight for equality is not over.