Feminism and Art


My view of feminism: shaped by three figures in art.

In college I studied art history, specifically gender roles in modern art. While I thought I would never use the depth in which I studied the interaction of female form in its environment from artists who have long since passed, I realized this studying has helped me construct my own view of how I view feminism. Wow, that was a mouth full. Basically, as a tool for my own confidence I look to the women in these works for support. To give some background: for centuries, artists have shown women in different ways, whether in weakness, helplessness, and fragility, or in empowerment, victory, and justice. I chose to focus on the pieces of art where women were used as a symbol of strength, defying obstacles, and a force of nature. My focus narrowed to the portrayal of women as victors fighting back to create their own destiny. I will share my three favorite examples that I think about when I feel unmotivated, scared to speak up, or worried what that I might sound stupid.

The first work, “Liberty Leading the People” by Eugene Delacroix shows a authoritative woman, sure-footed, stepping over a mass of bodies, in her right hand thrusting the French flag in the air. She is a force to be reckoned with. Holding a large riffle in her left hand, she looks over her right shoulder at the Frenchmen next to her as if to say, “finally now it’s our turn, let’s do this.” She’s a badass. Her gown has fallen off her shoulders, unnoticed; she’s been too busy fighting for her cause to be bothered. Though the original intention of this piece was to commemorate the French Revolution, its main character reminds me to focus on what I’m fighting for, what I love, and what I deserve as a woman.

The second work is that of Yayoi Kusama, a visual artist who challenged the oppressive, patriarch dominated society of Japan to become a creative genius by channeling her experiences and energy into unparalleled form. Due to her traumatic childhood, she began hallucinating patterns. She channeled these repeating patterns’ energy into her art. Three years ago, I was excited to hear that the Whitney Museum was exhibiting her pieces: “I who have arrived in heaven”, an enclosed space with a series of small hanging lights, mirrors, and a small water surrounded plank to stand on. I was instructed to open the door, walk in, and I would have 45 seconds to myself. As the door closed behind me, I was overwhelmed by how beautiful and infinite this space felt, though it couldn’t have been more than 8 cubic feet. Thousands of bright fireflies surrounded me in ceaseless growing field, and I was the only person. I felt so small, so inundated by the vastness of space, and so grateful knowing Kusama’s background that I was able to experience first hand just a glimpse of what she saw every day. When I get overwhelmed, I take a second to remind myself that I can overcome the obstacles in my path, and sometimes I even close my eyes to think about this room to remind me that I am not alone, I am surrounded by thousands of little lights telling me to keep going.

And finally, I like to think of “The Winged Victory.” This is one of my earlier face-to-face interactions with a piece of art that shaped my view of feminism. Though unfortunately headless, she was created to honor the goddess Nike. What is more awe including than the goddess of Victory towering 8 feet high over you? Just teetering below her in the Louvre at age 10, her presence was palpable. “Who was she? She looks so important. She has wings. She wins battles over thousands of men. She fights for a just cause she believes in. I want to be like her!” I think of her telling me to fight for what I believe in, to stand up for my opinions, so carry myself with her same confidence and presence.

I am very grateful for these pieces of art, which exist in post card form on my desk at work, because they remind me to be the strongest version of myself. They remind me to not hold back, to speak up even when I’m nervous, and to view myself as I view them. Having these women, these characters, these forces, in the back of my mind much like thinking of real women in history give me strength when I need that extra nudge of support.

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