In the history of art, the spotlight has always been on male artists whereas women have been mere objects of interest, the so-called muse. It might seem that little has changed since then, but the tides have slowly but surely risen. 

Although even today, women don’t make it in GOATs lists. They are put in a separate category based on their gender.

In her groundbreaking essay (1971), “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” leading art historian Linda Nochlin criticized society’s bias against women artists. Women were underrepresented in highbrow art culture due to the dominating patriarch, rather than inherent ‘gender’ differences. At the same time, the Feminist Art movement in the West started gaining momentum in the late 1960s. Both second and third-wave feminists sought to rewrite art history strictly through the lens of women’s struggles. This was a flourishing era of female empowerment, queer-friendly community building, identity reclamation and strong open-for-all activism. 

Here are some of the most laudable and brave art pieces from the movement that have impacted popular culture greatly. 

1. Cut Piece by Yoko Ono, 1968: 

In Cut Piece, performance artist Yoko Ono sat on a stage wearing nothing but a suit with a pair of scissors near her. Each member of the audience could take turns cutting off a small piece of her clothing, which they were allowed to keep. The purpose of this piece was to examine the audience’s gaze and action in exposing the female body.

2. Untitled Film Still #84 by Cindy Sherman, 1978: 

Seventy black-and-white photographs depict the artist as various generic female characters, including an ingénue, a working girl, a vamp, and a lonely housewife. Photographing herself in such roles, Sherman opened a dialogue about stereotypical representations of women.

3. Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met. Museum? by Guerrilla Girls, 1989:

Over sixty women have created numerous anonymous projects as part of the Guerrilla Girls from 1985 to 2000. Chief among them is the infamous Mets billboard from the Guerilla Girl’s exhibition, Reinventing the F word- Feminism!

It brings to light the massive under-representation of women artists as compared to the over-representation of their bodies in mass media.

Inspired from Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814

4. The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, 1990:  

In Eve Ensler’s play, women of various ages, races, sexualities, and other differences explore consensual and nonconsensual sexual experiences, body image, genital mutilation, direct and indirect encounters with reproduction, vaginal care, menstrual periods, prostitution, and many other topics.

5. New Rock Feminism by Aleksandra Mir, 1996: 

Not enough feminist voices in your local rock scene? Join the protest!

This campaign, as photographed by the Swedish-American contemporary artist, took flight in Roskilde Festival, in the summer of 1996.

6. Riot Grrll, Punk Rock! 1990:

Without Riot Grrll, your favourite edgy, guitar-bashing punk-feminist movement couldn’t have been.

The mega-influential punk group emerged in the early 1990s and went on to inspire artists, activists, authors, and educators around the world to pursue socially and politically progressive careers. 

Want to achieve new levels of punk-rock cool feminism? Here, we took a few leaves out of their revolutionary manifesto for you.

7. The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, 1974-1979:

In the photo, there are 39 place settings on a triangular table with a ceremonial banquet. Each set contains different types of utensils and depicts female body parts such as the vulva and butterfly forms. 

Through the instalment, Judy intended to normalise and humanise overly vulgarised female body parts in an effort to level the cultural playing field for both sexes.

8. I shop therefore I am by Barbara Krueger, 1987:

Most media targeted at women reflects men’s assumptions about what women want, how they live, and what they value. 

The art piece challenges the idea that women can find happiness solely through material possessions and that men can maintain control over them through this social conditioning.

9. The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist by Guerrilla Girls, 1988:

This poster by the Guerrilla Girls is an early example of their approach to tackling discrimination and prejudice in the art world through the use of irony. They use a light-hearted tone to point out the challenges women artists still faced in the late 1980s, such as the “advantage” of potential career success after reaching the age of eighty.

10. The Semiotics of the Kitchen by Martha Rosler, 1975:

The Semiotics of the Kitchen is a parody performance piece, analysing how women are confined at home by using the regular televised cooking show as a symbol.  Rosler portrays herself as an “anti-Julia Child” by playfully handling various kitchen tools. This woman and her tools disrupt the ordinary meanings associated with food preparation, transforming them into expressions of frustration and anger. 

According to Rosler, when the woman names each kitchen tool, she is essentially acknowledging her own oppression.

11. Some Living American Women Artists or The Last Supper, by Mary Beth Edelson, 1972:

Instead of the renowned male figures in the original painting, Mary Beth Edelson deploys notable female artists.

This collage questioned the exclusive male presence in the painting and confronted the frequent relegation of women in religious contexts.

12. Silk ‘Portrait’ Corset of Francois Boucher’s ‘Daphnis and Chloe’ by Vivienne Westwood, 1990- 

As Valerie Steel wrote in The Corset, A Cultural History:

‘Once women no longer felt that they had to wear corsets – when the corset, in fact, was stigmatised – some women consciously chose to wear them. Now, however, the corset was worn openly – as fashionable outwear, rather than underwear. Long disparaged as a symbol of female oppression, the corset began to be reconceived as a symbol of female sexual empowerment.’

What better way to conclude this piece than this quote by artist and theorist Suzanne Lucy? 

For me, now, feminist art must show a consciousness of women’s social and economic position in the world. I also believe it demonstrates forms and perceptions that are drawn from a sense of spiritual kinship between women.