Alexander Gray Associates is pleased to announce the inclusion of Joan Semmel in the exhibition Black Sheep Feminism: The Art of Sexual Politics, curated by Alison Gingeras at Dallas Contemporary, TX.
Black Sheep Feminism: The Art of Sexual Politics examines the work of four radical feminist artists active since the 1970s. Joan Semmel, Anita Steckel, Betty Tompkins and Cosey Fanni Tutti each fearlessly confronted sexual ethics, gender norms, and the tyranny of political correctness; and all four artists faced censorship for the explicit sexual content of their work. This timely study explores key themes that are part of a broader conversation about the legacy of various feminisms in present day politics and culture.
Feminist art, like feminism itself, is hardly monolithic. There are wide-ranging divergences of values, philosophies, ideologies, and socio-political agendas within the feminist movement—yet all feminisms share the fundamental goal of striving for equality for women. Despite being a force for social-political change over five decades, contemporary feminism still elicits controversy. Yet the polemical debates generated by mainstream feminist movements pales in comparison to the response evoked by the “black sheep” feminists. Semmel, Steckel, Tompkins, and Tutti explored the extreme edges of feminist politics and sexualized imagery. In the process, these four ran afoul not only of mainstream culture, but also of more orthodox strains of feminism; and sometimes of each other.
Mainstream feminist art often disapproved of sexually explicit imagery. This objection was largely rooted in the critique of pornography as an oppressive form of representation that exploits women. Bucking this consensus, the black sheep feminists embraced such imagery. In 1973, Anita Steckel and Joan Semmel joined a coalition of women artists called the “Fight Censorship” (FC) group. The FC proclaimed the right to create sexually explicit art. As Steckel wrote in the group’s manifesto, “sexual subject matter should be removed from the ‘closet’ of the fine arts where it resides in small portfolios, small works, off the walls, in private collections, etc.”
The contentious nature of these four artists’ work has led to their marginalization within established feminist art history. Black Sheep Feminism seeks to rectify this historical slight. These extraordinarily relevant artists are unacknowledged matriarchal figures who bravely pushed the limits of body art, political correctness, and female sexual agency. While they strayed from the established feminist flock, today they provide essential precedents for a host of contemporary art practices that explore audacious, sex-positive terrain.