Tags: ecosystems

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Feeding Trees, part one: musings on feminism

The following is part of a talk I am preparing for a conference on women's art, Cultural Sensibilities V, to be held in Daegu, Korea, June 14-24.

© 2011 Alice Dubiel alicedubiel@planetart.us 206.782.7455 USA

Feeding Trees: making art and rethinking how we live in the world

I would like to thank Una Kim, Park Yeonsook, Ryu Seesook, Park Nam Hee, Harriet Levi, Karen Swallow, Jeonsoo Shin, and our dear, late sister, Madeline Janovec who made it possible to appear before you today.

I have posted links, a bibliography and image list on my blog, “News from Planet Art” http://odaraia.livejournal.com/

Today I will present my work and some other artists’ works which have influenced my thinking about the relationship of culture to western society’s interaction with our planet. This is my theme in Feeding Trees. Before I begin, I wish to respond to a request for a definition of feminist art and some ideas about feminist philosophy.

For me, feminism is about liberation and self-determination. It is a powerful intellectual philosophy and movement for social justice. It's also very inclusive, more than just about calls for workplace parity. In the US the development of feminism, or kinds of feminism is intertwined with the struggles against slavery, racism and labor oppression.

My mother lived in a time of US economic hard times and subsequent prosperity. She was born after women acquired voting rights and was the first in her family to attend university. I had learned to be assertive and inquisitive from my parents. As a young woman, I became more aware of women’s position in society through my experiences with the health care system which I felt had objectified women. I think I wouldn't have made it through art school had I not already embraced the approaches of feminist philosophy toward art making, whether imagery or materials. The art world then, in 1977, was more sexist even than now. There were few women instructors in my department. Different feminist artists and art historians developed varying strategies, not all interested in parity. As artist Kiki Smith has said, “If you’re a female artist, you’re already marginal, on a discard pile, so you can use things or situations that are discarded, that are sort of free, and that aren’t associated with power.” (from “In her own words: interview by David Finkel,” citation available)
For me one appeal of feminist thinking was how its social analysis models could be applied to the traditions of our relationship to the environment.

Soon after my early professional days began, a rather intense backlash against US feminism struggle took place, well documented by journalist Susan Faludi. Media definitions, as a result, supplanted feminists' own. Despite reactionary assertions such as “feminists hate men; so be afraid, be very afraid,” I think since 2000, a larger portion of US society, especially younger people, expect opportunities for women to be fair and that men can no longer privilege themselves, isolating themselves from the domestic sphere or even traditional women’s roles.

Here, I would like to illustrate the changes in social mores with the depiction of hostility toward Greg for being a nurse in Meet the Parents (2000) as a feminist perspective. The antagonists, Greg’s prospective in laws, both the physicians and Pam’s father, belittle Greg’s vocational choice as not adequately gendered “male.” After the first wave of US feminism, in mass produced films made during the 1930’s and 40’s, women were depicted as capable of taking men’s roles. However, not until the mid 1990’s was it considered reactionary not to loosen gender roles in reverse.

I believe feminism involves more than critiques of gender roles and fairness in opportunities. Its strength lies in the ability to analyze power and the intersections of class, race, gender as well as human relationships with our ecosystems. Feminists have redefined social codes such as respect, self-determination, and social responsibility. They have continued to explore the politics of personal and domestic life. Like other critically analytical perspectives coming from the struggles of the oppressed, feminism continues to evolve.