[Theme music plays]
Juana Alicia: It’s a tension we experience all the time. I mean, we know the distance between what we’re capable of and what we actually produce and what the world perceives we’re capable of producing is so wide there’s no convincing anybody. I mean, the distance between the real person and the stereotype is this tremendous gulf.
Suzanne Lacy: The notion of the discrepancy of social imagery and our own sense of ourselves led to everything from Eleanor Antin, parading around Solano Beach as a king, to Judith Golden gracing the covers of Mother Jones and Redbook. that was a form, of experimenting with imagery and character and role that I think came out of that early time.
Emily Shapiro: Hello and welcome to ARTiculated, I’m Emily Shapiro, managing editor of the Archives of American Art Journal
Mackenzie Beasley: And I’m Mackenzie Beasley, I work as the audiovisual archivist at the Archives of American Art.
This podcast receives support from the Alice L. Walton Foundation.
Warning: this episode contains discussion of artworks that address sexual assault and violence.
Emily Shapiro: What does art make happen, and what can art make happen? Artists continually revisit these questions as they connect with audiences in new ways, and different media make different channels available between artist and spectator.
Since the 1970s, feminist artists have adapted a variety of forms to encourage equity and advancement, creating art that serves as a forum for shared experience and growth. In turn, they’ve found that the drive to undo generations of oppression and conditioning can also spur art and new dynamics between creator and audience.
Mackenzie Beasley: This episode explores what feminist social practice has meant for Suzanne Lacy, particularly in her early performance work, and for Juana Alicia in her murals and paintings.
Suzanne Lacy was born in Wasco, California in 1945, and she has been committed to raising consciousness and pushing the limits of art's efficacy in the world throughout her multifaceted career. In the 1970s, she joined the feminist art graduate program at the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles, an organization for the advancement of women artists and art historians that was a ballast to pedagogies that excluded women and emerging media such as performance and video art.
Here’s how Lacy described her burgeoning awareness of audience while at the Woman’s Building and how it informed her subject matter and approach during her 1990 oral history with Moira Roth:
Suzanne Lacy: Whether we were painters or performers, we were quite conscious of our work's effect on its audience. Probably much more than other artists at the time, we gave a great deal of consideration to who the audience is, what experience they would have, what they would take away with them and, how the work may or may not transform their life.
Those kinds of concerns came out of the fact that we believed that we were revealing some essential truths about our experience as women and that those truths were not adequately or appropriately in the general culture, that popular culture in particular, represented a kind of a charade of what "a woman" was, or a parody or, a facade
And of course, we didn't know what "a woman" was. We were barely finding out who we were. But we were clear that there was a big discrepancy between our experience and what we saw out there. As a result, we were very, concerned with the clarity of the communication to this larger audience, hoping perhaps naively.
although, actually, experience has proven that for feminists in general, it has not been a naive hope, hoping that we through our collective self-representation would change the way people viewed women. There were other reasons we were concerned with audiences. We talked a lot about the elitism of art, how art, could come from a working class experience, could come from the Black experience as well. So it was, it did not escape us, of course, as it has apparently very few feminists in the past that the parallels between our condition and the working class and so on.
Our analysis was not limited to women. It extended to other areas of oppression and. So the democratization of art, making the creative process itself along with the fruits of artists' labors available to a broader audience was very important.
Suzanne Lacy: I remember for myself in Three Weeks in May, that very natural progression from thinking, "I want to talk about rape" to "who do I want to talk about rape to"
"Well, I don't want to talk to the art going audience because yes, I want artists to see it, but I also want it to become much more influential in the culture at large.
Therefore doesn't make any sense to put it in a gallery." At that point in time, galleries were not particularly, effective in the, in the general popular cultural realm. So we thought about moving out, not just into the streets, but on the airwaves, expanding our audience.
We thought about once we reached that audience, how would they respond?
Emily Shapiro: Lacy nuanced her strategy over time, as her performances were not meant to be didactic, but rather openings for dialogue, generating transformative exchanges between artist and audience:
Suzanne Lacy: I don't think it was so simplistic as wanting to control your audience. I think it was wanting to be clear and wanting to, support, change, whatever that meant. And it meant different things to different people. So as a result of those kinds of concerns, we began to explore.
What process an audience member would go through when confronted with what we knew to be sometimes very loaded material. For example, one of, I think the most brilliant pieces I've ever seen Nancy Angelo's videotape from the "Incest Awareness," which is a larger project that she and Leslie Labowitz and several other women were doing.
And Nancy created a videotape by tape recording, dead straight on head shots of six women talking about their experiences of it. And she put these monitors in a circle of chairs and the audience came in and they sat in chairs between these chairs that were about the monitors are at eye level and the monitors talk to each other.
So you found that you were sitting in the middle of the consciousness raising group on incest. Let's take the traditional art format, that would have been put on wall and you would have confronted material and gone away by yourself and gone away. First off, it was in a circle, so it created the form of a group and a consciousness-raising group. After the tapes went off and the program was over, a person trained in incest counseling came out and worked with the audience. knowing that, you know, a fourth of the people in the audience at least would have been incest victims and they have never talked about it.
One had to take care of that audience, if you want to do something other than just slap them in the face and say, "isn't that interesting? Weren't you impressed by my work?"
I felt, that unless you had gone certain steps into, the voyage of healing yourself, you couldn't really deal effectively with the material because, you know, I know how to know what the material was.
Suzanne Lacy: You have to know how a person might respond to it and how they could accommodate it and transform. So we began to include the process for the audience's own transformation within the works of art.
Mackenzie Beasley: As she cultivated new tactics for connecting with audiences, Lacy's incisive analyses were shaped by the rapidly developing arts scene around her. Lacy and other feminist artists raised awareness of women's social and political concerns while navigating the new media and cultural landscape.
Suzanne Lacy: Well, we were, intuitively creating some that I think now can be seen to have impact on the larger art environment. I, I remember it with sort of irony that the day in mid seventies, when I heard someone called Chris Burden and a political artist. The irony was that until that point in time, political art was a bad word.
we had all affirmatively embraced it and decided we were going to be political artists, no matter what anybody thought. And then to hear, you know, Chris called a political artist, I thought, "Well, either his popularity is waning or, you know, somebody's changing, the name of the game."
It's quite possible to look at some of the ideas going on in public art now and find that, uh, there's a great deal of influence the ecological movement, the sort of Gaia movement, all of those sorts of ideas that are now just coming to the forefront in, in art at least have origins in early feminist art theory as it came out of the west coast, () which is what I'm familiar with. For example, the notion that art was communication, a link, a crossover mechanism caused us to want to deal with people of different races, people of different ages. Collaboration also came out of that sensibility, that, if art was a communication, the communication that occurred between the artists was an important integral part of the work itself.
That was one idea. Another was the body was sort of the primary site for art. The body, the experience of the body and the physical body itself. Now definitely feminists.were not alone in that. Vito Acconci, Gina Pane, there were many artists at that point in time in the early seventies that were beginning to experiment directly with the body as site.
Suzanne Lacy: And of course in previous decades, people have as well. such as the more objective kinds of works that I did,
that Nancy Buchanan did, that Martha Rosler did, which were self objectifying. Remember Martha's, Statistics of a Citizen Simply Obtained. And, and I did, oh, I ran around, I did a piece that nobody knows much about where I did all kinds of body measurements.
I measured penises and nose, thumb, and foot sizes to make a comparison. It was called An Old Wives Tale. And it was a series of photographs. So it was like all these measurement analyzing the body. And, and, and I saw a lot of early feminists work in that objective way with their own bodies.
You even see it in Cindy Sherman's work. I think it came out of an attempt to make some kind of sense out of the images that we saw and how that relates or does not relate to subjectivity. The body as site also evoked a whole lot of other work such as Barbara Smith's work, which is the infinitely imminent and subjective experience of the body.
The notion of the discrepancy of social imagery and our own sense of ourselves led to everything from Eleanor Antin, parading around Solano Beach as a king, to Judith Golden gracing the covers of Mother Jones and Redbook. that was a form, of experimenting with imagery and character and role that I think came out of that early time. As did also Women Against Violence Against Women and their analysis of, and my own, analysis of the way in which images were constructed and the power of relationship inherent in the construction of the images. I remember at this Society for Photographic Education conference, a couple of years ago in Houston, I was quite amused to see, a lecture on the iconography of the high heel with slides and it was all the pornographic imagery of high heels. And I just thought, "This is very interesting, because in a very dispassionate way, he's saying the very same things that Women Against Violence Against Women said in a very passionate way when they dissected and contrasted images, you know, the use of the high heel in pornographic imagery."
Suzanne Lacy: So that discrepancy between interior reality and .projected image was something that evoked different kinds of work.
Emily Shapiro: Lacy's work often begins with an accounting of events, taking stock of what has happened and what is happening to women in the real world. In her oral history, she describes the origin of her projects investigating the realities and representations of sexual assault:
Suzanne Lacy: It was Sheila who really supported not just the transformation of the site, but having decided that, the transformation of the way in which the material was presented. She really urged me to consider reframing the image so that it spoke to that broader audience was not in the language.
of a gallery, but it was in the language of a more populist audience. And that's where the notion of maps in Los Angeles, where the things could be geographically located. And then even Sheila, um, I think working with me on the visual installation you can see it in the, in the installation now it's her favorite colors, you know, at that time were street sign, yellow and black, and she said, "make it look like a road, make it look like something that people travel through, but it's very much part of their experience." We were each playing with each other's ideas and bringing them back to our own professions and working with them.
So I created first one large map where the rape reports got placed, stamp them with a big red "RAPE" stamp.
And then it occurred to me--and this again came out of theory--that good political art does not show victimization. It awakes you to victimization, but it shows a road to empowerment. So the second map, the same map had on it rape crisis centers, rape hotline, it collected all of the information about rape and put it on that map. That led to the next step, which was to collect those people in time using the city. The actual fabric is the city as the sort of grid upon which a series of events would occur that were educational, that were artistic, that were ritualistic, public and public media, governmental acknowledgement, there's all these sort of series of something like 30 events so that took place over the three weeks while the rapes were being recorded.
We were talking about the way the media portrayed these events, first we felt extremely depressed and helpless. And then we decided, well, that was one thing we could do: we can make an art piece out of it. We decided we were going to do a media event on the Hillside Strangler to critique the coverage and we called it In Mourning and In Rage.
Mackenzie Beasley: Through performance, installation, community, and collaboration, Lacy's work in the late 70s created a space for the acknowledgment of profound grief and anger. And in co-opting media portrayals and reach, she gave voice and face to the victims of sexual assault as she began a radical accounting. In refusing to ignore these horrors, Lacy delved into the fundamental
relationship between the artist's creation and reception.
Here's how she grappled with the dynamic between perceptions of her creative output in art and activism:
Suzanne Lacy: I think that another thing that we're just now beginning to see, in public art, is this sense of the public and private. You see that in the censorship debates, Much is made of Mapplethorpe's being censored, but in fact, I think the key issue there is "What is the right of the public?" and "what is the right of the self?" It's a very rich debate that's beginning to occur if we can just frame it right. We were very conscious of,the interior self and the private self and its relationship to the audience, to the public self representation, to group representation, the responsibility for collective representation. Um, we were very conscious of that public and private. I remember Sheila de Bretteville talking a lot about couch and chair: the chair was the private and the couch was the public, or the collective, or the collaborative, or the communicative.
We were very concerned with--maybe this is a parallel or maybe it's the same thing--inside and outside. And that had to do with power.
Suzanne Lacy: Who was inside? And it was very clear that ethnic, feminist, political, Marxist artists were outside in the early seventies. Then there came a point in the mid-eighties where many of those are now inside, but inside in them in a way that I think the more politically sophisticated of those people who are inside now are quite skeptical of what that means.
We were very concerned with race, with class I did work in Watts with Evelina Newman, an older Black woman and her friend. She was an organizer of these women and we worked at several performance pieces together. And that had to do with class and had to do with age and with race, but it basically focused on the creativity and reframed the creativity of those women within the context of a performance work.
it's a questioning of power. It's a questioning of the prioritization of images. Who is in the art world? Who has the right to make images? Who has the right to represent? So that I'm sure there are many, you know, activism was an important, aspect of the work that I think has been ignored in recent discussions and feminism and the arts. There's an attempt to disconnect the radical activist base.
Emily Shapiro: Juana Alicia was born in New Jersey in 1953 and grew up in Detroit before settling in the Bay Area. After attending UC Santa Cruz, she worked as a painter and organizer for Cesar Chavez in the United Farm Worker Movement during the 1970s, where she confronted the confluences of issues* faced by agricultural workers, immigrants, women, and people of color.
Murals were the natural outlet for her ambitions, as she depicted diverse community histories and conjured a vibrant future. Juana Alicia elaborated on one of her first major murals, El Cordon Roto, or The Broken Cord, which she created for an annual salon at the Tijuana Cultural Center in 1999.
Juana Alicia: I had done a banner, because it’s a show exclusively of 18-foot-tall by 6-foot-wide, two-sided banners. That’s the condition for fabrication. And so I had already fabricated my banner—designed and fabricated it—and my image is called The Broken Cord—El Cordon Roto—and it’s an image on one side of a pregnant woman in a sort of a naturalistic landscape, and the umbilical cord—a large, monumental umbilical cord—forms the frame of the very long rectangular piece, and it sort of encircles it and leads to the other side of the banner, so that it’s going off of the frame. And on the other side of the banner the cord continues but is breaking and spurting blood all over the image. The image on the other side is mostly monochromatic black, white, and gray of a young cholo, a young Chicano, raza, man being murdered. And it could be a murder as a result of gang violence or police brutality or prison-yard brutality or anything actually that happens to a young man on the streets of the city—
the cities of this country—or on the prison yard. He’s falling, and his wound is also spurting, so he’s either been knifed or shot, and it’s the same blood that’s coming from the umbilical cord. So this image is really about the connection between life and death, between motherhood and the brutality that our children are suffering for—our brothers or our spouses or partners or whoever our loved ones are. For me, as a woman, every time one of these deaths happens or this violence happens to our young men, whether we know them, as in the case here I feel pain and loss.
This is a memorial piece for a young man named Alberto who was murdered at Berkeley High School trying to stop a knife fight, and he was my daughter’s preschool teacher. It was the fourth gang-related death at Berkeley High School of a young Mexicano that year, 1998—or it must have been 1997, actually, when the deaths occurred. I was so distraught over this that I felt that a larger memorial was in order and the portrait–I mean, especially since you’re interested in sort of like the artist/model relationship– the portrait of the mother is actually my friend Ana Olivarez, who’s a teatrista and a psychiatric social worker, and she was pregnant at the time. She does a lot of work in her own life combating violence, and She had struggled really hard to have this baby, and it’s such a struggle to bring life forward anyway, and our community has a very high value on life, counter to the media perception that we don’t value life, and we don’t see life as cheap, and it’s very painful for our community, and it’s very painful for the mothers in our community to lose our sons or to lose our loved ones, so that’s what this piece is about—in part.
Emily Shapiro: She subsequently received a flyer with an image that she called the antithesis of her work, created by John Valadez, a leading figure in the Chicano arts movement, and a painter who previously created a mural for the Tijuana Cultural Center. Juana Alicia recounts her reaction to the flyer and unpacks the socio-cultural and artistic dynamics at play in her 2000 oral history with Paul Karlstrom:
Juana Alicia: I had labored very hard over the piece and I was ready to ship it to LA when I received in the mail the flyer, which from my point of the view was the antithesis of my work, which was an image of a 15-year-old–approximately–Chicana or Asian young woman. She looks very indigenous. She could be what we call a “numechini dianom” a nickname/misnomer for somebody’s who real Indian looking with Asian sort of features—or it could be an Asian woman, and, I mean, that confusion there is really a whole issue in itself, about identity and about the nature of exploitation of young women both in Asia and Latin America, like our bond—whether it’s been across the Bering Strait or it's you know as a result of worldwide child prostitution, child disappearances, the pornography industry, poverty, intense poverty as a result of neoliberalism and neo-liberal economics, NAFTA—that many women in Latin America and Asia are being forced into prostitution, and particularly children. So here we have a very young woman with her pubic hair shaved and her hand on her genitals turned on her head. I mean, it’s to me a very precise metaphor or representation of the exploitation that our daughters and our children are suffering as a result of the globalization of labor and the economy. So that image in itself is very packed, without even talking about its counterpart on the other side of John Valadez’s banner, which is her, dead and brutalized, because the initial image, which is supposed to be a pretty image, but already has a quirk to it because it’s upside down. . . .
Paul Karlstrom: Right.
Juana Alicia: The first image is very problematic in terms of everything it implies, and this was the image on the flyer, and my name was printed right over her genitals, being in alphabetical order down the column, and I just found that the use of the Tijuana Cultural Center of John Valadez’s image of this exploited girl
without any kind of analysis or counter that perhaps even the counter that John proposed on the other side of his banner, which is the brutalized woman, without anything like that being used to advertise the show all over Mexico where the show would travel—I think it was going to Veracruz and Mexico, el D. F. and different parts—I’m sorry, but I found that totally heinous. And it would be very appealing on a glandular level to many who saw it in terms of the male audience that would see it…
Paul Karlstrom: Right.
Juana Alicia: ...and very revolting to the female audience. The number two cause of death among women in Mexico is illegal abortion. That’s a pretty heavy statistic. So women are still quite victimized by this kind of imagery, and to put that out in public as the ad for the show, assuming some kind of level of analysis and sophistication that Martha Palau and her colleagues did not reflect in their letter to me when I protested this use. . . . They didn’t even have the sophistication, I don’t think, in what they said to me in terms of John Valadez being a great artist and it was the winning banner from the show from the year before, and it’s their policy. . . . Well, knowing that, when they selected the banner the year before, that they were going to use that image to advertise the next show, they should have thought twice about it—or changed their policy.
But, at any rate, I just found it very objectionable, and I don’t see it as a question of censorship or opposing something sensual. To me this is way beyond the realm of the sensual. This is about the destruction of women and the destruction of women of color and our children.
Mackenzie Beasley: Throughout Juana Alicia's work, she embraces fantastic and transcendent imagery to inspire social empowerment. She is committed to edifying her community, and she strives to break intergenerational cycles of cultural inertia and harm--here's how she describes that commitment in her oral history:
know, when we talk about basic values, I don’t want to be in any way aligned with the far right. I believe that our sexual identities are really central to our health as people. I am a sensualist. I believe in the beauty of the human body and it’s intended use as a source of pleasure. I think that we, like Alice Walker says, are put on the earth to enjoy each other. So I don’t want to be portrayed as like this raving, crazy censor-happy caricature of feminism, because that’s not what it’s about. And in terms of basic values that’s sort of like. . . Even “basic values,” the use of those terms which have been so claimed by the far right. I think we’re talking about the value of human life here. And I think John Valadez might assert that when he talks about what he did in this piece. But I guess this sort of hearkens to what Alice Walker’s whole campaign is about—combatting female genital mutilation. She talks about, in this one interview, in this movie on human rights that I frequently show to my students: Human Rights and Wrongs. It’s a movie about how the. . . . The first half of the movie, which was done by Charlayne Hunter-Gault, is about how the UN still has not been able to pass a formal resolution that rape is a violation of human rights. Still. And women within the UN have been working very hard caucusing and organizing to get that declared a violation of human rights—like all of the rape that happened in Yugoslavia, former Yugoslavia and all that.
Paul Karlstrom: Right.
Juana Alicia: That’s still not a war crime. And that’s the first half of the movie. And the second half of the movie is about FMG, female genital mutilation, and mostly it’s an interview. . . . It’s a dramatization and it’s an interview with Alice Walker about her work on it. And people say, “Well, you know, this is some people’s culture.” All that, and she says, “This is not culture, it is torture. It is torture to mutilate children. It is just not culture. And if culture means destroying people, then we need to take another look at culture.” And I think it’s somewhat parallel to this whole thing. “Well, this is art, anything’s game, this is high art, it’s good painting.” It’s like, “Oh, come on, give me a break.”
Emily Shapiro: While the fiasco with the Tijuana Cultural Center was a blip in Juana Alicia's career in the late 1990s, it was also illustrative of the tensions, adversities, and myopias, especially those faced by women, that she addresses in her work. The story also exemplifies the misogyny she encountered regularly throughout her life and career.
She spoke about the ethical obligation she feels as a creator with interviewer Paul Karlstrom:
Paul Karlstrom: I'm interested in, I guess, ideas of responsibility in image-making, how you make choices about what you do, and I think in these interviews we’re getting a pretty clear idea of how you feel about it, the position you take, and it then relates very much to other thoughtful artists, who I guess have to wrestle with this.
Again, as we said earlier, we’re not going to talk about John Valadez. We actually have, I think, an interview with him that was done [yes, completed in] , and wouldn’t it be interesting if something about this were on there.
Juana Alicia: Oh, and I’d like to talk to him eventually. But this isn’t the focus of my work. I’m more interested in exhibiting the image of The Broken Cord. Like as soon as this happened, I thought “Okay, fine, The Broken Cord got displayed at an Amnesty International Conference and at an exhibit on Anne Frank and her legacy. I’m much more interested in focusing on the positive than getting into these little turf wars among people who should be allied anyway.
I mean, every time I showed this image of the flyer to a woman, you know, she wanted to throw up, she felt disgusted, it was like, ugh, viscerally very offensive. And when I show the image to most men—and I’m talking about enlightened men—they went, “Huh. Hmm!” And I think if I had to name what their reaction was—and it’d probably be better if they named it themselves, but they’re not here to do that—first maybe interest, maybe titillation, but these are intellectually responsible men, so then they would look at it again, try to turn it right side up, and I’d say, “No.”
Paul Karlstrom: [laughs] That’s what I tried to do. I said, “Why isn’t she. . . ? Oh.”
Juana Alicia: And I think men and women did that, tried to turn it right side up, because you want to turn it right side up. That’s your inclination as a being that stands on your feet—most of the day anyway, or in public. And then the response sometimes was, “Well, what’s the problem, other than that?” And sometimes the response was, “Oh, yeah, um hmm.” But it took a lot longer with the men that I showed the image to for anything to register.
That’s a big feminist question because we’re hard-wired to be aroused, too. But I think that the conditioning, at least, towards certain kinds of arousal and certain signals for that is pretty heavy in the marketplace and everywhere. And because women–not that young boys aren’t also subjected to brutality—everything from circumcision to domestic violence to–I mean, they say one out of five boys has been sexually abused and one out of three girls.
Juana Alicia: So I think many women already know the experience of violence and sexual violence on a first-hand basis in that way, but also every day on the street, whether it’s men harassing you or just whatever. To do your life, you have to combat that, in order to be professional, go shopping. Some women have to deal with it with their spouses. On and on and on. So for women the reality of sexual violence is a daily meal, and for men it’s the flip side of it, at least in this culture, so I don’t think you know the social conditions are in any way similar. Emmanuel is constantly shocked—but more so when we first got together—was more constantly shocked by the level of daily harassment that I’m subjected to—whether it’s just walking out on the street with me or whether it’s a workplace sort of thing, whatever it is. Or whether it’s like being a strong woman and going up against traditionally male things or trying to do things that men ordinarily do that women don’t do, on and on. But there’s a daily dose of it that’s very offensive, so to see it in a place where one expects some level of respect for one’s work as an artist and a woman, that’s pretty offensive. And so that’s why I think women had a very big read on that and men didn’t. So that’s like one, I guess, metaphor or example for the differences, but it’s so vast.
Mackenzie Beasley: As a muralist, Juana Alicia considers how art lives in public, how it serves a community, how it bolsters people. Her activism embraces an intersectional approach to addressing systemic oppression, and she seeks connection and solidarity above all else. In 2000, she highlighted the major social issues she saw wreaking havoc in the United States: state-sanctioned violence against people of color, violence against women, restrictions on women's agency, xenophobia, and racism. In her own words:
Juana Alicia: It’s a tension we experience all the time. I mean, we know
the distance between what we’re capable of and what we actually produce and what the world perceives we’re capable of producing is so wide there’s no convincing anybody. I mean, the distance between the real person and the stereotype is this tremendous gulf, and we’re trained in our educational institutions in this country to internalize our racism and our sexism—our homophobia—and we’re trained to hate ourselves, and we’re trained to deny ourselves and our heritages, and the whole cultural inventory that we should have access to, and to boil it all down to a sound byte, and to simplify everything, and to paint ourselves as caricatures of our cultures. And it’s an incredible injustice that we live with every day. And for those of us who are female or colored, the world, when they look at us, projects right on to us. You can see people’s accounting going on when they assess you in the supermarket.
Juana Alicia: You know, people look at you and go, “Uh huh. Oh, welfare mother. Oh, non-English speaker. Oh. . . .” Whatever. And I can’t tell you how many times in the supermarket white women have come up to me and said, “Speak English to your child.”
I mean, in many parts of the world these young women if they left whatever place of comfort they’re in and lived in many other parts of the world, would find that that’s their only power—that’s their only source of power—and it hasn’t changed. Hasn’t changed much anywhere. I think that’s an illusion of a certain class of people that have a certain level of privilege. Yeah.
Paul Karlstrom: But of feminism, as well, because this is one of the things that was clearly protested. . . .
Juana Alicia: Well, white feminism, white, middle-class feminism.
Paul Karlstrom: . . . .the use of the female body.
Juana Alicia: Right.
Paul Karlstrom: And I guess that’s all I’m asking because basically you seem to be really quite removed in your imagery from that even as an issue.
Juana Alicia: Um hmm.
Paul Karlstrom: In contrast to John Valadez, by the way.
Juana Alicia: [chuckles]
Paul Karlstrom: Well, I just wondered if that. . . .
Juana Alicia: Yeah.
Paul Karlstrom: . . . .brings up any issues that you think are worth. . . .
Juana Alicia: Well, I do. It brings up the issue of like sort of a generational thing that happens, whether it’s from our generation to our children’s generation or whatever, in this country, particularly around the struggles of the civil rights movement. You know, a certain level of taking for granted rights that we had to struggle for earlier on. And I do believe we’re born with rights, and that these are not privileges, they’re rights. That we should have autonomy over our bodies. We have the right to autonomy over our bodies. We have the right to housing and a safe life and an education and good health care, and all those things are inalienable rights everywhere on the planet, and that there are places where people have to struggle a lot harder to claim them than they do in places where there’s a long history of that struggle or a history of that struggle where certain advances have been made. I do think that. . . . Yeah, some things are taken for granted in contemporary feminism in terms of like having the vote, certain levels of security, but I think it’s very tenuous, very fragile. And you look, see what’s happening with the Taliban of Afghanistan, or in different parts of the world where women’s rights have been ripped away, or if you read Margaret Atwood,
The Handmaid’s Tale, right? I think we’re [not, that] far away from that. I really don’t. I think it’s a portrait of our times in many ways, even though my credit card still functions at the grocery store. But I do think the kind of structures that she describes in The Handmaid’s Tale are not that far away from the vision for this country of the far right at this point. And we are living in a police state, too. Look what just happened in. . . . Where was that where they got the beating of the Black man, Rodney King, on videotape again?
Paul Karlstrom: Yeah, the latest one.
Juana Alicia: The lynching that just happened.
Paul Karlstrom: That was Philadelphia.
Juana Alicia: In Philadelphia, that’s right.
Paul Karlstrom: Which is ironic because you know the convention is about ready—the Republican convention.
Juana Alicia: The Republican convention, right, yeah. Well, it’s perfectly right on time, I mean in terms of what’s really happening. And Mumia Abu Jamal on death row there, and on and on. I mean, there is a false sense of security we have here, and this young generation of feminists of some level of privilege can assume that—and maybe even of all levels of classes of women here can assume some level of safety.
Because there have been some things put into the political structure and the social structure that insure our safety. There are rape crisis centers. There’s domestic violence counseling. There are some safe houses for women. But having done eight murals with my students at Casa de las Madres in San Francisco, and my students all had to go through the security training, and there’s like bullet-proof windows at the undisclosed site and everything. . . . It’s pretty horrendous what’s really going on in terms of a war on women here, so I don’t think that it’s an exaggeration to say that these dangers still exist, but there’s an illusion of safety. But, yeah, I mean, I think that it’s just a very. . . . I think any woman should be able to dress the way she wants, have the kind of sex she wants, have the partner she wants, all those kinds of things. Everybody should have that. Everybody should be able to do that. But I don’t think that there’s a supporting social structure for that, really almost anywhere.
Emily Shapiro: This podcast is produced by Ben Gillespie and Michelle Herman from the Archives of American Art
It was edited by the team at Better Lemon Creative Audio
Our music comes from Sound and Smoke composed by Viet Cuong and performed by the Peabody Wind Ensemble with Harlan Parker conducting.
For show notes, work cited, and additional resources, visit aaa.si.edu/articulated.
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