Tag Archives: art history

What is Art and To Whom Does It Belong

Laurie says:

I posted about this article by Junko Fukazawa when she first wrote to me about it:

I just got an email from Junko Fukazawa, who (among other things) writes, curates and gives workshops on feminism and art. She is one of the core of people that I work with on my Women of Japan Project. Her thoughts and support are very important to the work.

She is going to write a short article about Women & Art in the journal We Learn. It’s published by The Foundation of Japan Association for Women’s Education. The foundation is highly respected by the women’s groups and women’s centers in Japan. She will be writing from feminist perspective about a self-portrait of Alice Neel at 80, and an image (not yet chosen) from Women En Large.

I was very interested in what she had to say.  After I received the magazine, I took a while to have a translation (everyone’s life is very full). When my friend Becky (Professor Rebecca Jennison from Kyoto-Seika University) was here, we went to a local cafe to catch up. She didn’t have time to do a professional translation but she translated it line by line at the cafe table and I wrote it all down. Then we did a fair amount of copy editing and emailed it to her to check. And I went over it again for this post. So the article that follows is an _informal_ translation that gives a reasonable sense of what Junko wrote.  When one of the very busy women I work with has time, I’ll have a proper formal translation. But that may take quite a while and I’ve been wanting to post it.


Junko Fukazawa says:

If art is a white christian men’s form of visual expression?

So long to answer the question. Consider theology, classic music, opera, church architecture, wall paintings, portraits of important men, tales, myths, bible, Greeks, Mary Magdalene, prostitutes…

I first had doubts about art when I entered art school in 1970. How few paintings and drawings of nude women did I learn about? The school had no male models.

It is really interesting to look at the human body, so I kept going and graduated from Art College, but without an answer as to why all the models were women. But as a student I had looked at Western art and saw that since long ago there were male nude models. So in Western art the male body was/is the standard of beauty. The woman’s body was in fact considered to be below that standard and was looked down upon, and therefore became the expression of male sexual desire.

When we look at feminist art and feminist performance art outside of Japan, we can see that women in the west have strongly felt the need to become {not} subjects – to take back the expression of the female body that has been the object of the male gaze.

To go beyond the repression that is art.

I was blown away by the one self-portrait of Alice Neal did. (She had done portraits of other people all her life.) We see a nude, an aging woman holding a brush. There are many examples of Western art of each of these things, but here for the first time they are all in one painting. Here is a way that feminist thought can be concretely expressed: A famous 80 year old artist sitting on the same striped chair that many nudes have been painted in, wearing glasses, holding a brush and looking in the mirror. That she is wearing glasses is proof that she is looking actively and that this portrait is in progress. You know that she is looking in the mirror. What a brilliant intellectual way this is of critiquing history.



Women En Large is a project that is intelligent and gentle to people. These are portraits but they also include the words of the models. Photographer Laurie Toby Edison and editor and model Debbie Notkin very gently and strongly convey to the viewer the individuality, the interior feelings, and the body self image of the women. How they understand and accept themselves is communicated very considerately, strongly and clearly. The viewer becomes conscious that the strength of this expression and their strong existence is what they see.



April’s words: I decided that I was never again going to allow someone to victimize me because of my size. Furthermore, I decided to enjoy myself the way I was. body and personality both.

Junko: You yourself decide who you want to be.

The censorship of queer art in the United States: what’s actually going on here.

Cross posted at Fukshot and Feminine Moments

Marlene says:

I have been invited by Birthe Havmoeller to write a brief explanation of the cultural issues at play in the recent controversy over the Hide/Seek show at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., after seeing my post about it at Body Impolitic. Birthe’s blog, Feminine Moments is a Danish lesbian art blog and she felt her readers would benefit from some explanation of the circumstances facing queer art in the U.S. Obviously, there is too much to discuss here all at once, so I will limit myself to a summary of the political and social factors at play and a little bit of analysis.

The first thing is to understand a little about the Conservative/Religious/Right in the US. One of the confusing things about American politics is that at its founding, the Republican Party was the liberal party of Abraham Lincoln in the mid nineteenth century, opposed to slavery shortly before the Civil War (1860).  Both political parties in the US mostly represent business interests, but must rely on a voter base to stay in office. The Republican party voting base is now (predominantly) fundamentalist Christian conservatives.

Space and time do not allow a full explanation of this phenomenon, but the important thing to take note of is that Republican rhetoric is peppered with statements about limiting the reach of government. Despite the fact that these statements sound like those of Thomas Jefferson, who was suspicious of government power at the founding of the United States, they are in fact driven by a desire to remove government controls on business and to resist any act of government made on behalf of any minority.

Their desire for “small government” is inconsistent and is in truth a ruse to obscure a preference for some areas of public spending (military, pro-business subsidies, constitutionally questionable blurring of the lines between church and state) over others (social services, environmental and other business regulation, the arts). The fight against arts funding and the attack on particular publicly sponsored art events and exhibitions is a microcosm of the battles over these views.

The complaints about Hide/Seek and the subsequent removal of Wojnarowicz’s Fire in My Belly must be seen in the context of the NEA fights of the late 1980s as well as the current environment of American politics. Objections to the image of ants crawling over a plastic crucifix must be heard with Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ as a backdrop. We will set aside discussions of the work itself, which is well within the tradition of grisly images of Christ being used as a metaphor for human suffering. However, it is important to note that the complaints about Fire in My Belly are not actually complaints about the work. None of the accusations of anti-christian sentiment or obscenity hold true. This is about homophobia and little else. The photograph described by one of its detractors as “Ellen Degeneres grabbing her breasts” hardly lives up to what the mind conjures from that description.

The staff at the (publicly funded) National Portrait Gallery, where Hide/Seek (a privately funded show) is being displayed, capitulated to criticism by removing Fire in My Belly. The reasons for this cowardice are no doubt manifold, but one fear is likely predominant; the gallery staff fears that they can not win a public fight and will lose funding as has been threatened. They fear losing the fight because many in the American public do not care about art and many do not think that such things are important expenditures in a time of financial distress. They also fear losing the fight because in the age of television news, a short inflammatory description of an artwork travels much faster and farther than a nuanced analysis of its merits.

However, there are very strong protests against this censorship in the US arts communities, including mainstream institutions.  The Christian conservative movement is a minority among both voters and the population at large, but a highly energetic one.  The “opposition,” while larger, is much more diffuse and less focused.

It is important here to remember that the United States is a young nation that does not have the long artistic history of European countries. Art is not valued by Americans in the same way that Europeans value art. Public funding of the arts is taken for granted in most of Europe, but that is an extension of a tradition started by kings and churches who patronized artists to glorify their causes. Most of the American Christian sects tend to eschew grand ornament, and Americans tend to think that what kings do is not what an elected government should do.

“Art” is synonymous with “Elitist intellectuals and filthy queers” in the minds of the American Right. Art by queer artists, especially gay men, is symbolic to them of an imagined enemy seeking to dismantle all that they hold dear and (possibly more threatening) seeking to up-end the social order that not only gives power to white male Christians, but allows them to see themselves as normative.

Queer art calls in to question their assumption that most decent people are pretty much like them. It allows for the possibility of pluralism in an area that American Fundamentalist Christians are uniquely un-easy: sexuality. It also stirs a resentment for elitists (which means anyone who disagrees with them and speaks in complete sentences). The combination of these anxieties evokes anger and aggression that can rise to the level of violence or tireless political activism.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason “our side” is so often at a disadvantage in these fights is that we are not as motivated because we are less afraid of new ideas. Fear is a very powerful motivator.