!Women Art Revolution Review and Trailer

Like all great documentaries, WAR! Women’s Art Revolution started with purpose and clear intent: to unravel a truth or reality untold like any before. Unlike many great documentaries, director Lynn Hershman-Leeson touched upon a topic that has yet been explored in this depth before and one I found to be ignorant to.  I was taken off guard by a simple question: “Can you name three female artists?” I couldn’t.  As someone who grew up in San Francisco and attended art school, I considered myself to be a rather well-rounded artistic individual and was baffled by my unfamiliarity. How, in all this time, have I not asked myself how art played a role in the feminist movement? I suppose I have always thought that it was more natural for females to be artists and never questioned why the majority of art held in high esteem was that of men. And so at a whopping five minutes into the film, I was hooked.

What surprised me most about this film was the extent in which these women fought politically, aggressively, and creatively. They gave up major factors in their life to pursue a truth no one else believed in. They stepped out of the norm into what, at that time, was a very dangerous battleground. In 1977, Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz stood in front of a large crowd in protest to the hillside strangler in Los Angeles armed with these words, ” I’m here for the 388 women who have been raped in Los Angeles between October 18th and November 29th.” Understanding how dangerous it really was for women to be confronting rape in this magnitude is hard for someone like me because, although rape still horribly exists today, it is not as brutally excepted as a fact of life as it was for these women. Still upsetting me to this moment was a scene depicting an entire room full of women getting asked if they’ve ever been raped and the majority answering ‘yes.’  These were dark times and these women were revolutionaries. They did not carry guns like the Black Panthers. They were armed with art and a voice that was getting louder which threatened to change the very fabric of our society. This voice was not only dangerous because it was slowly turning into a revolution, but also because it shook this nation all the way to Congress. It shook the idea about a women’s role in society, in the home, and in how they should be censored. “A subculture that was no longer content with remaining a foot note, sought to become an implicit part of the cultural narrative.”

These women were relentless. When they were told they couldn’t be in shows or museums, they opened their own gallery in 1972. They used such mediums as performance art to show their frustration with their invisible cages and the overbearing social stigmas associated with being a strong artistic woman. They created fictional characters to get into the underbelly of society and report from the inside.  Lynn-Hershman Leeson lived as the character, Roberta Breitmore for almost a decade. Ana Mendieta burned women’s figures in the ground and covered herself with feathers as performance art and appropriately named it ‘Documentation of Feathers on a Woman.’ The Guerrilla girls were born in the 1980’s, stepping out with strong intent to finally reveal the complete obsurdity of the discrimination against women by posting bold facts and statistics in the public’s plain sight. They were crushing ignorance. This was no longer a small revolution. This was an all out war on society’s perception of a woman’s place in this world. These women’s’ declarations of independence were as true to themselves as breathing and sleeping. They were not hiding in the shadows anymore.

WAR! was shot with footage from over 40 years with over 27 featured female artists all of which took a strong stand in a time where not playing house wife was grounds for divorce. I left this documentary with a sense that it had changed me. It opened my eyes. The same eyes I was sure had been opened this whole time. Thinking about how I am now and everything I have the chance to become — I am grateful. Grateful and happy that as a woman I have so many opportunities that were not so easily given out in the past. Ignorance is not bliss, knowing your history and understanding it is.

” I began to shoot this film 40 years ago.  I’ve been waiting all this time for the right ending”. Lynn-Hershman Leeson

!Women Art Revolution opens in San Francisco Friday, August 26th at Lumiere Theatre

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