Ewa Partum and the Feminist Movement
For centuries, women have been progressively involved in the art world as painters, sculptors, patrons, historians, and critics, however, they have faced great challenges. Women artists have not had easy due to them being just being a woman and while they made a great contribution to art and continue to do so, they have come up against gender biases, difficulty selling their work, being recognized, and being taken seriously by men. It was not until the 1960s when the Women’s Liberation Movement arose which paved the way for women artists to redefine how society saw women, influence cultural attitudes, get rid of stereotypes, and be equal to their male counterparts. One artist, in particular, stood up for women and fought until they had equal rights. That artist is Ewa Partum and she will be the focus on how she was a great influencer of feminism and shattered the male gaze.
The Women’s Liberation Movement started the 1960s and carried through the 1970s and 80s. The platform was to make women question their equality and relationship with men. Women were treated as less, expected to stay at home and take care of the children, let the men pursue careers, and basically let men dominate the social construct. There were great women influencers who took advantage and used their art to express the movement but one, in particular, was Ewa Partum. She was the first generation of the avant-garde in Poland during the 1960s and 1970s and was a pioneer of feminist art. Her mission was to use her art to explore the female identity and gender bias in the art world. Ewa Partum was a nude artist and gender bias is what pushed her to pose naked in many of her works. She has faced discrimination and backlash as an artist but her performing naked was her way to get her message across that she will perform naked until women in the art world obtained equal rights.
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In interviews, she has spoken of the naked performances, saying “In their interpretations, many critics concentrate on the use of my naked body in my actions without actually understanding that for me it was a matter of creating a sign: a sign pointing into one direction. It was a tautological and not, as so many are inclined to believe, an egocentric strategy… My naked body is merely a tool. I’m very focused, not making any spontaneous movements. When the performance is finished I bow towards my audience as a virtuoso after a concert…” Partum made various films and stage performances which focused on the female body and identity. In 1974, she did a stage performance called Change and performed nude. She made a statement that the purpose was to show that her body was a work of art and that it was an element of the feminist discourse. She continued her nude performances throughout her career up until the 1980s.
In 1980, she had an exhibition in the Warsaw Mala Gallery called Self-Identification. She showcased her nudity in a series of photomontages which attracted controversy. Critics did not like the idea of her posing naked in streets, next to people, and in stores but it was all for the purpose of female identity. Criticism did not stop her because she continued to produce a variety of works that showed her nudity. In 1980, she did a performance in the O.N. Gallery called Women, Marriage Is Against You! The show had her in a wedding gown wrapped in foil labeled For Men. She cut through the gown and came out of it naked. Another performance she did was called Stupid Women which parodied how women try to conform to men’s expectations of them. Her art was admired by women and was very empowering but to still live in a world dominated by men, most of her work was banned or censored. Ewa Partum is taking back what it means to be a woman and her work represents that because if you think about it, women have always been the subject for male artists. Their body was exploited and put into society’s minds that their purpose is to flaunt their sexuality towards men and be submissive. They were tired of being looked at as sexual objects so many female artists used the feminist movement as an advantage to get their message across using their bodies. Artists like Ewa Partum challenged societal norms and created a new standard of the female figure in art.
Female artists took images of women taken by men and recreated them for their own agenda. As women created their own art using the female body, the body became s powerful weapon against the social constructs of gender. I can understand that feminist art and the feminist movement is a tricky subject to understand because it has been misconstrued in a couple of ways. People see it as a movement to empower women while others view it as hate propaganda towards men. In my opinion, women have good intentions and try to get their message across peacefully but like with other cultures and communities, there will always be small groups that will take a message or symbol and turn it into something evil. I believe that the feminist movement was not just about how women saw themselves in art but also about confronting their subordinate roles in society. Art was just another way to get their message across. Women were accomplishing more than art. The feminist movement lead the way to women to be allowed to work and get equal pay, the Civil Rights Act, the birth control pill was introduced, and abortion became legal.
Women were flourishing and gaining the freedom they deserved and it was and still is important to keep fighting for more freedom and keep using art as a way to get their message across. Ewa Partum wanted equality and didn’t stop fighting. Some may argue that using nudity was not the best way to gain equality but it was actually the right thing to do. She wanted society to know that the female body is more than a sexual object waiting to please men. It was about women taking control of their lives and that being naked is not a sin. She fought for women and she is an artist I can truly respect.