What feminism means to me
When I think about feminism in this post-millennium moment
I am compelled to locate it within the context of my relationship to its legacy as a combustible polemic. Historically, we tend to perceive this grand narrative in opposition: us vs. them, you vs. me (men vs. women, another story about the "other"). But this shouldn't be the case. It should be for everyone. It is not an inclusive group or about one group dominating another. It is about all of us.
Even the very definition of feminism is divisive. But that's because feminism, like all struggles of
inequity, is founded on a conversation that has progressed with time. It endures its many iterations, the beating back of its opponents, the revising of itself as new ideas bubble up. We'd all love (at least most of us) to wake up to a world where difference is not something we must defend. That's why feminism is so important. It keeps us fighting for a better world.
Some have criticized feminism for being too essentialist, others have argued that gender is socially
conditioned. But what it all comes down to today is women believing in women so we will all believe in each other. I've heard many say the feminist label is confining, suffocating, pigeonholing—or worse—
those that even believe gender is no longer an issue. Feminism shouldn't be a burden; it should
be empowering, because it's empowering to be a woman. One woman's struggle is all of ours.
So, to grapple with the legacy of feminism, you must look to see how it lives in yourself, your mother, your neighbor, your colleague, your daughter and your world. To celebrate those women who told us who we are, where we've been and where we want to go. Our life-shapers. For me, there has been a rotating cast of tough matriarchs. Visionaries, really. My mother who made me want it all. My mentors Alanna Heiss, Katharina Sieverding, Marilyn Minter, Georganne Deen and Aleksandra Mir, who showed me how to be strong. And my peers Kate Gilmore, Mika Rottenberg, Jen DeNike, Nicole Cherubini, Ylva Ogland and Elif Uras who believed in me over and over again.
I like to think of feminism and its legacy like a daisy chain. It's connecting—generations, genders, races, religions and power structures. It's lasting—absorbing all the attempts made to end it. It's defying—boundaries, categories, limitations. So, let's exploit it. Let's identify it in all of us. That's how it lives on.
"The Influentials" looks at the remarkable number of successful female fine artists that have graduated from the School of Visual Arts. It is a reflection of the majority female student body at SVA and art colleges in general, and an examination of how the notable success of these alumni has frequently been achieved through a model of engagement and cooperation.
Each alumnus was asked to select one artist of significance to her for inclusion in the show. Some selected a fellow alumnus or an SVA faculty member, others chose peers, still others selected mentors or artists they had never met but whose work had had a major impact on theirs; nearly half of them chose male artists. With many of the pairings, the relationships of content, form or concept are readily apparent, in other cases, less so.
In this way, "The Influentials" partially charts a creative community started by SVA alumni and built upon by the artists who have, through action or example, supported them. While group exhibitions are often built around a technique, or philosophical or aesthetic concern, the work in this show is diverse in approach and philosophy, the unifying principle being these alumni's success and their willingness to credit the members of the creative community who have inspired them. In essence, "The Influentials" is evidence of connections across generations, gender, mediums and geographical space: a deeper kind of social networking that happens in the studios, galleries and minds of the participants as well as in the digital realm.
Does this new paradigm of community displace the modernist trope of the genius creating masterpieces in solitude that earlier generations subscribed to? Is it the femaleness of so many artists that marks the sea change in how opportunity is shared, or is it coincidental? The new generation of gallerists
and curators have access to artists and their work in ways that means far more opportunity for a
more diverse representation of the art world than in the past. We may never be able to conclusively tease out the threads of this fabric, but the work and the relationships demonstrate the way that female SVA graduates are integral to, and have enriched, the art world as a whole, and we are pleased to step back and look at the patterns of mentoring, patronage, teaching and friendship that this exhibition reveals within SVA.
Carrie Lincourt, Director of Alumni Affairs