The Woman's Building, L.A. 1973 - 1991
by Terry Wolverton
From a slide lecture presented at the 15th Annual California
Studies Conference at UC Davis, April 2003.
Feminist art raises consciousness, invites
dialogue, and transforms culture.
- Arlene Raven, art historian and Woman's Building co-founder
|Last spring, while attending
a writing conference in the desert, I had occasion to share a table
over lunch with a woman I'd never met before. Perhaps ten years my
senior, she confided that she was back in school pursuing her doctorate.
Her dissertation, she divulged, would be about representations of
Eve in the work of contemporary writers and artists.
"I have a poem with Eve in it," I couldn't help but offer, and she
insisted I send it to her.
Like me, she was a feminist, and it was through this door that we
entered to find common ground. Our conversation was deep and intimate,
rapid fire, ideas and revelations spilling over themselves in our
fervor to express them. Amidst the sea of writers and academics at
the conference, we were delighted to have found each other.
Flyer soliciting membership using photo montage created by Susan Mogul
in 1973. Part of the "Who Said A Woman Can't" advertising campaign
written by Linda Macaluso.
Truth is, for that hour or so over salad and sandwich, I think we fell
a little in love with each other. I don't mean that in the romantic sense.
I was reminded of the early years of Second Wave feminism, the seventies,
when women were becoming conscious of our own power and vibrancy, and
when we'd meet another who was engaged in that same process, we couldn't
help but fall in love because she was a reflection of our own possibilities.
Last spring, while attending a writing conference in the desert, I had
occasion to share a table over lunch with a woman I'd never met before.
Perhaps ten years my senior, she confided that she was back in school
pursuing her doctorate. Her dissertation, she divulged, would be about
representations of Eve in the work of contemporary writers and artists.
"I have a poem with Eve in it," I couldn't help but offer, and she insisted
I send it to her.
Like me, she was a feminist, and it was through this door that we entered
to find common ground. Our conversation was deep and intimate, rapid fire,
ideas and revelations spilling over themselves in our fervor to express
them. Amidst the sea of writers and academics at the conference, we were
delighted to have found each other. Truth is, for that hour or so over
salad and sandwich, I think we fell a little in love with each other.
I don't mean that in the romantic sense. I was reminded of the early years
of Second Wave feminism, the seventies, when women were becoming conscious
of our own power and vibrancy, and when we'd meet another who was engaged
in that same process, we couldn't help but fall in love because she was
a reflection of our own possibilities.
So I was startled when, near the end of our meal, my table companion lamented,
with great sorrow and weariness, that the women's movement had been "a
"How can you say that?" I asked, incredulous.
"Well, so much of what we fought for didn't come to pass," she explained.
"But so much has! Don't you remember what it was like before?" I pleaded
with her. "In the nineteen sixties, would you have imagined that you could
get your Ph.D.? Could we have regarded Eve as anything other than the
source of original sin? We have to measure our success from where we've
come, not by how far we have to go!"
Breathless, I made myself stop; I was in danger of spontaneous combustion.
Yet, here we were: two women writers engaged in passionate discourse about
ideas we held dearest: our work, our inspiration, our identities as women.
Without the women's movement, and for myself, specifically without the
feminist art movement, I knew, we would not have been there.
To understand the origins of the feminist art movement in the United
States, one must look to the foment of the 1960s and early 70s, the swarm
of rebellion and leaps in consciousness that redefined American culture.
In 1955 a seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a
Montgomery, Alabama bus and thus gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement,
which ignited a host of struggles for social liberation waged by women,
Chicanos, Native Americans, gays and lesbians, and others. These movements
not only demanded more equitable distribution of power and resources,
but raised profound questions about the meaning assigned to these identities
and the cultural representations of these groups.
Opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam stoked an unprecedented youth
movement which, in addition to the politics of protest, embraced "sex,
drugs, and rock 'n roll." This fueled a thriving counterculture determined
to forge alternatives to the economic, social, and moral structures of
Within the art world, too, there began to be a challenge to the hegemony
of formalism that had dominated the 1950s and '60s, in which any concern
for content in art was disregarded or disdained. Questions of cultural
identity incited a push for the democratization of art, a demand for greater
inclusiveness with regard to both who could make images and who had access
|The feminist art movement in California
began in 1970, a year which saw the protest by women artists of the
"Art and Technology" exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
(LACMA) in which not one woman artist was included. Further research
uncovered the statistic that of eighty-one one-person shows at LACMA
in a ten-year period, only one presented the work of a woman artist.
That same year, artist Judy Chicago established the Feminist Art Program
at California State University, Fresno. These two events serve to
illustrate the dual concerns of the feminist art movement: the push
for better inclusion of women in the mainstream art world and the
utter redefinition of art and culture within a feminist context.
Judy Chicago, founder, speaking at Womanspace Gallery.
|In 1971, Judy Chicago moved
the Fresno program to California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts).
With the school still under construction, the twenty-five students
of the Feminist Art Program launched a large-scale, site-based, collaborative
project, "Womanhouse," spearheaded by Chicago and her colleague, artist
Miriam Schapiro. Working together, they transformed the rooms of a
slated-for-demolition Hollywood mansion into art environments that
eloquently protested the domestic servitude of women's lives. In "Breast
Kitchen", for example, the all-pink walls and ceiling were affixed
with fried eggs-sunny side up-that gradually morphed into women's
breasts, a trenchant comment on women's role as nurturers. "Fear Bathroom,"contained
the plaster figure of a woman in the tub, frozen up to the neck in
cement, and addressed the state of confinement and paralysis felt
by women. "Linen Closet"displayed the torso of a female mannequin
segmented by the closet shelves. This latter image was reproduced
in Time magazine; "Womanhouse" was, without question, the most publicly
visible work of feminist art to date.
|The Woman's Building, on which
this presentation centers, attempted to walk the line between the
movement's dual concerns, calling itself "a public center for women's
culture." Founded in 1973 in Los Angeles by Judy Chicago, graphic
designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, and art historian Arlene Raven,
the Woman's Building offered opportunities for women in the fields
of creative writing, graphic design, the printing arts, performance
art, video, and visual arts. "Public center" signified the wish to
make a place for women artists in the mainstream, while "women's culture"
revealed more subversive intentions. Women live in a different culture
than men, was the claim, bounded not only by social position and opportunity
but also by differing concerns, values, and worldviews. In 1973, when
the Building was founded, we were arrogant enough to try to codify
those differences, blithely secure in the assumption we could speak
for all women. The later 70s and especially the 1980s would foreground
pervasive differences among women-including race, class, and sexual
orientation-and the pitfalls of essentialism.
Courtyard of Grandview building in 1973.
Arlene Raven and Sheila de Bretteville at the celebration
party to celebrate the 5th Anniversary of the Woman's Building.
|The initial vision of the
three founders, all of whom had been on the faculty of California
Institute of the Arts, was to create an alternative program for women's
art education, the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW). But de Bretteville,
especially, did not want to replicate another ivory tower, and sought
to align this new school with the burgeoning women's movement in Los
Angeles. Out of this expansive vision was formed the Woman's Building
, a public center that could house the school as well as other feminist
organizations and businesses.
The Woman's Building in Los Angeles was named for another structure
built in 1893 by architect Sophia Hayden for the Columbian Exposition
in Chicago. That building, which was demolished after the Exposition,
exhibited arts and cultural works by women and included a mural by
When it opened in 1973, the Woman's Building was home to three galleries
dedicated to women's art -- Womanspace, Grandview, and 707. Sisterhood
Bookstore sold feminist and non-sexist literature and music. Three
women's theater groups-the L.A. Feminist Theater, the Women's Improvisational
Theater, and the Women's Performance Project-staged productions in
the auditorium. Other tenants included and office of the National
Organization for Women (NOW), a coffeehouse, and Womantours, a feminist
Frontice piece from the catalog for the 1893 exhibition.
Woman's Building 1893
Detail of a panel showing the mural painted by Mary Cassatt. Woman's
Quote from the 1893 building painted on the wall in 1973 for an
exhibition. It remained for many years as a permanent acknowledgement
of the connection.
Still, its principal program was the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW.)
At a time when the mainstream art world was primarily concerned
with forms and surfaces, the Feminist Studio Workshop offered a
wholly different set of questions: "What is it you want to say as
an artist, and to whom do you wish to say it?" Participants were
encouraged to create work inspired by their life experience. Critiques
were focused not on what was "wrong" with the work, but on what
message the work was communicating, and how that might be accomplished
Brochure designed by Sheila de Bretteville.
Between 1973 and 1981, women from across the country and from around
the world moved to Los Angeles to participate in the two-year program
of the FSW. Some of these women went on to become established artists
in their own right; a number of them also became responsible for
the operations of the Woman's Building.
The FSW closed its doors in 1981, victim of economic shifts and
the sea change in social attitudes that followed the election of
President Ronald Reagan. Still, the Woman's Building continued until
1991 to offer opportunities for artmaking, exhibition, and education
for women artists.
I spent thirteen years-from 1976 to 1989 at the Woman's Building,
beginning as a student in the FSW, then becoming a teacher, program
director, exhibiting artist, publicist, typesetter, newsletter editor,
grantwriter, board member, development director, and eventually,
executive director. I washed dishes and painted walls, and sorted
bulk mailings, and hauled enough folding chairs for a few lifetimes.
While I was not there at the founding, I did experience some of
those brazen, heady days of the 1970s when we were convinced we
would change the world. I lived through the years of backlash, when
we struggled to maintain our values in the face of economic hardship
and a hostile political climate. I was witness to its eventual demise,
the final succumbing-as with all utopian experiments-to inevitable
change that rendered, if not its vision, then the manifestation
of its vision obsolete. And I mourned it for years after, inconsolable,
the way one grieves for a lost mother.
For those thousands of women, the Woman's Building provided an unparalleled
opportunity: to experience oneself as both woman AND artist, and
to explore the potential significance of those intertwined identities
in a context in which the value of such investigation was understood.
Without this context, one is left to face alone the oppression any
artist confronts-indifference, hostility, suspicion, self-doubt.
Add to this the baggage of sexism, the inclination to question whether
a woman is entitled to express herself at all, and in which ways,
and to whom, and about what, and with what reward.
The Woman's Building provided a community in which a woman was
encouraged not only to speak, to but find her authentic voice and
cultivate an audience eager to hear it. Keeping alive that vision
that it may seed future endeavors of its kind-in other forms, at
other times and places-is the purpose of my book, Insurgent Muse:
Life and Art at the Woman's Building, a memoir published in
2002 by City Lights Books.
Poster announcement for FSW designed
and printed by Cindy Marsh and Sheila de Bretteville.
In 1970, Judy Chicago founded the first feminist art program in the country
at California State University, Fresno in 1970. That first year, Judy
Chicago's visionary Feminist Art Program drew fifteen women students,
many of whom were new to both feminism and artmaking. Still, it was from
the work of this initial group of participants that many of the core principles
of feminist art education evolved. These concepts would guide Chicago
and her colleagues when they established the Feminist Studio Workshop
in Los Angeles three years later.
|It was in the Fresno program that women
first employed the process of consciousness-raising in the classroom,
Consciousness-raising, or C-R, is a communication process in which
women sit in a circle and each takes equal time to speak, uninterrupted,
about her experience while the others listen attentively. C-R sessions
are usually directed to a specific topic, such as body image, mothers,
etc. The practice allows an individual to validate her experiences
and to probe their meanings; it also encourages women to see the commonality
of their experiences, to realize that some problems have social, not
The slogan "The personal is political" is rooted in the C-R process.
It is crucial to remember that in the early days of feminism, most
women rarely considered the events of their lives to be worth mentioning,
to have any significance at all. C-R was adapted by North American
feminists from a practice called "speaking bitterness," used by women
in revolutionary China. Feminist artists used C-R both to understand
more deeply their position as women and to generate material for their
art. This strategy flew in the face of the art establishment; in 1970,
women's experience was considered trivial and frivolous, unsuitable
as subject matter for creative work. Indeed, since the end of World
War II, narrative content had become taboo in the New York art world;
formalist concerns dominated the critical discourse. Serious art was,
by definition, the province of men, and if a woman hoped to pass into
this hallowed terrain, she could only do so by making herself as much
like a man as possible. The rare female art student who called attention
to her gender by daring to create a work that referenced menstruation,
marriage, motherhood, or household drudgery could fully expect to
be criticized or mocked by her male instructors.
American Dreaming by Ellen Lampert
Sheila de Bretteville in first day group meeting,
second year of Feminist Studio Workshop
about menstruation by Ann Phillips. FSW Group Show, June 1975.
Honor, Cherish... by the Feminist Art Workers. Performance to
celebrate the 5th anniversary of the WB. (L to R: Cheri Gaulke, Nancy
Angelo, Laurel Klick)
Laundromat. Acrylic painting by Michele D'Onate.
In order to create an environment in which women could explore their
lives through art, participants in the Fresno program insisted upon a
separate classroom environment for female art students, one in which women
could create the context and control what happened there. Such separation
would provide not only protection from corrosive or undermining feedback,
but also allow women to bond with one another and to define for themselves
their paths as artists. Additionally, the women of the Fresno program
asserted the importance of female role models, both in being instructed
by women and in studying the long-buried history of women's art. Finally,
Chicago and her students openly challenged the notion of art as a work
of individual genius by engaging in collaborative creations.
In 1971, Judy Chicago moved the Fresno program to California Institute
of the Arts (Cal Arts). With the school still under construction, the
twenty-five students of the Feminist Art Program launched a large-scale,
site-based, collaborative project, "Womanhouse," spearheaded by Chicago
and her colleague, artist Miriam Schapiro. Working together, they transformed
the rooms of a slated-for-demolition Hollywood mansion into art environments
that eloquently protested the domestic servitude of women's lives. In
"Breast Kitchen", for example, the all-pink walls and ceiling were affixed
with fried eggs-sunny side up-that gradually morphed into women's breasts,
a trenchant comment on women's role as nurturers. "Fear Bathroom," contained
the plaster figure of a woman in the tub, frozen up to the neck in cement,
and addressed the state of confinement and paralysis felt by women. "Linen
Closet" displayed the torso of a female mannequin segmented by the closet
shelves. This latter image was reproduced in Time magazine; "Womanhouse"
was, without question, the most publicly visible work of feminist art
Art historian Arlene Raven had joined the faculty of the Cal Arts Feminist
Art Program, and graphic designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville established
the Women's Design Program at Cal Arts as well. In conversations with
Chicago, they shared their frustrations about working within a male-dominated
institution. Separate classes for feminist students could only be so effective,
they observed; what went on in those classrooms was too easily dwarfed
by the larger context. They would routinely spend their class sessions
building up the confidence of women students, encouraging them to take
risks, only to see those same students' work disparaged or dismissed by
In 1973, Chicago, de Bretteville, and Raven made the decision to leave
Cal Arts to found an independent school for women in the arts, a place
where students could explore a feminist vision of their work and gain
authority and power within that vision. The Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW)
opened in September. Initial class sessions were held in de Bretteville's
living room, but by the end of November the FSW was installed in the building
that had once housed the old Chiounard Art Institute on Grandview Boulevard.
As a young design student, Sheila de Bretteville had been fascinated
with the Bauhaus movement and, later, by utopian experiments in Italy
and Scandinavia that utilized principles of architecture and design
to construct new models of community, new structure for social relations.
The FSW was intended to be a community for its participants, and de
Bretteville argued that their new school should not be isolated from
the life of the burgeoning feminist community in Los Angeles.
Front of Grandview building at the beginning of construction. Sept.
The Woman's Building was born of this intention and became the
hub of a rare synthesis between cultural, political, social, and
entrepreneurial strands of feminist Los Angeles. In the spring of
1975, the Woman's Building hosted a series of groundbreaking conferences
on feminist design, performance, film and video, ceramics, and writing.
Hundreds of women gathered to listen as Kate Millett, Meridel LeSeuer,and
others spoke about the new directions feminists were forging in
Poet Meridel LeSeuer, Women's Words Conference
Women in Design Conference
Frances Reid, coordinator, Feminist Eye Film & Video
Kate Millet at the Women's Words Conference
The Woman's Building moved
to a new location in the fall of 1975; some, but not all, of its original
tenants came along.
FSW students were predominant among the small
army of women who hammered sheet rock and sanded floors, renovating
the new building for its grand opening. Actress Lily Tomlin and feminist
singer Holly Near headlined the gala opening event.
It was to this location that I came in
1976 to become a student in the Feminist Studio Workshop.
Within the history of art, woman searched in vain to find ourselves
reflected in the mirrors of culture. What did we find? Dull-eyed beauties
whose gaze evaded ours; mounds of flesh arranged like bowls of voluptuous
fruit; evil temptresses, corrupters of men. More often, we found nothing
at all, a curious silence. Culture proved to be a funhouse mirror, distorting
and diminishing, a surface into which we walked and then disappeared.
When I first arrived at the Woman's Building, I didn't understand the
difference between theater and performance art. Over time, I learned that
performance art sprang from an entirely different tradition-not from theater
at all but from the visual arts. In the early decades of the twentieth
century, artists began to question the notion of art as object, to become
more interested in conceptualization than in an end product. Futurists,
Dadaists, and Surrealists still made art objects, but appreciation of
these was enhanced by knowledge of the theories and processes that gave
rise to them. In the 1950's, the "action painters" emerged; their focus
was on the process of applying paint to canvas-throwing or spilling paint,
or covering their bodies with pigment and rolling across the canvas. It
was in the gesture of painting, they believed, that art resided, more
than in the product that resulted. By the 1960s, the Fluxus artists had
coined the term "conceptual art," declaring that art resides in its ideation.
Some artists simply typed up their ideas on 3x5 cards.
Yoko Ono published
a book, Grapefruit, containing page after page of ideas for possible performance
actions. It was enough for the audience to imagine the concept; actually
manifesting it was beside the point. Some posited that-just as a painter
or photographer might frame a landscape or a scene-an artist could put
a frame around some aspect of experience, whether an instant or a prolonged
span of time, and declare that the work of art.
While some artists framed
everyday experiences (in a performance created for Womanhouse, artist
Karen LeCoq sat before a mirror, repetitively applying and removing make-up),
others set about to concoct an experience that might not have otherwise
happened, and thus impact directly the lives of their audience. Artist
Joy Poe staged her own rape during an opening at Artemesia Gallery in
Chicago, creating a moral dilemma for her viewers: should they intervene
against this crime and risk disrupting "art," or should they remain passive
spectators and in doing so, become complicit in Poe's violation? Being
faced with this quandary angered many in the audience who felt entitled
to a clearer delineation between art and life. Performance actions might
be performed privately, as a kind of personal ritual, and later revealed
to an audience through documentation-as when Linda Montano committed herself
to listening, via headphones, to a single musical note, tuned to one of
the seven chakras or energy centers in the body, ceaselessly for one year.
Others might be witnessed only accidentally by passersby, as when Adrian
Piper dressed as a man to walk around the streets of New York. Such events
might take place before an invited audience which was frequently incorporated
into the piece, being asked to participate either through directed action
or randomly. Suzanne Lacy, for example, dressed as a vampire and spent
the night in a coffin while the audience was instructed to file past and
gaze, as mourners, into the open casket. Here the audience transcended
their role as spectators to become performers in the tableau. Feminist
artists gravitated to performance for several reasons. Both performance
and video were emerging art forms in the early seventies, without established
traditions or hierarchy. While it was hard for a woman painter to make
a name for herself in a centuries-old tradition where men predominated,
in performance a woman could get in on the ground floor. Feminists were
further drawn to performance's focus on process over product, and to the
form's utilization of the body as art medium. And one could use it as
a means to build community, whether through collaboration with other artists
or by involving the audience in direct dialogue about the issues contained
within the work, C-R style.
Feminist practitioners contributed four significant
elements to the medium of performance: First, an exploration of alternative
personae, which was in keeping with the feminist intention to redefine
roles for women. [SLIDES: SMITH - WB77.319; DARANSKY - WB74.129; YARFITZ
- WB79.462; GREEN WB79.463; MARGOLIES - WB79.465; NISHIO - 83.2281; PIETA
- WB78.2237; SHE WHO WOULD FLY - WB77.326; EVE ACTS - WB86.907; HEAVEN
OR HELL - WB81.2233] Second was the use of confessional text, which grew
out of both consciousness-raising sessions and then-pioneering practices
in feminist literature in which writers revealed intimate details of their
lives and allowed the reader to eavesdrop on their internal monologues
without the veil of fiction. Interestingly, those two directions both
tended to push performance art in a more theatrical direction, as did
number three: the incorporation of ritual and feminist spirituality, returning
to theater's earliest roots as religious ceremony. [SLIDES: VALLEJO -
WB82.520; MALTA - 78.2298]
The final contribution made by feminists was
the promulgation of performance art as media event, the creation of spectacle
designed to attract the eye of the media, and thus gain a mass audience
for the feminist statement being made. In 1978, Leslie Labowitz and Suzanne
Lacy teamed up with Bia Lowe and other artists to create In Mourning and
In Rage, a large-scale public protest performance. [SLIDE: IN MOURNING
- WB77.2216] The purpose was to challenge the media's sensationalizing
of a rash of murders of women perpetrated by the so-called Hillside Strangler;
the tone of the press coverage was heightening the climate of fear and
reinforcing the victimization of women. Exceptionally tall women, made
taller by towering headpieces, were transported by hearse to City Hall.
Dressed in black, they debarked and formed a circle in front of the steps
beneath a banner reading, "In memory of our sisters, women fight back."
The artists designed the performance action and imagery specifically to
captivate the interest of television news and, in successfully achieving
this network coverage, not only used the media to critique itself, but
extended the impact of the piece far beyond the usual feminist and/or
Even already established elements within the performance
medium were altered by feminist practice. Male artist Chris Burden, for
example, utilized the body as art medium by arranging to have himself
shot in the arm with a pistol, then documented the experience as a performance.
FSW participant Jerri Allyn, by contrast, placed a rented hospital bed
in her studio and spent a week there exorcising her fear of cancer, the
disease that had taken her mother's life. Viewers could attend "visiting
hours" and hear Allyn read from her journals, or listen to a parade of
researchers and alternative healers discuss the latest approaches to cancer
Finally, numerous women challenged the notion of the individual
artist, the lone genuis, by working collaboratively. Collaborative performance
groups not only used a democratic process to create their work, but also
sought to address an audience outside of the traditional art institutions.
In "This Ain't No Heavy Breathing," the Feminist Art Workers [SLIDE: FAW
- WB78.2239] picked women's names at random out of the phone book, and,
in direct contrast to the lewd or threatening phone call, would call to
tell them what strong and wonderful women they were, and wish them a good
day. The Waitresses [SLIDES: WAITRESSES - WB 77.202; WB77207] performed
in restaurants to raise consciousness about the issues of working women,
particularly those in service industries. Sisters of Survival [SLIDE:
CIVIL DEFENSE - WB82.2185] donned nuns habits the colors of the rainbow
to protest the spread of nuclear arms.
*** This concern with democratizing
audiences, and with the messages these audiences were receiving, also
guided the philosophy of the Women's Graphic Center, another program at
the Woman's Building. From the perspective of founder Sheila de Bretteville
graphic design was all about communication. But public communication-from
political speech to news reporting to advertising-seemed to be largely
the province of men, while women's communication was relegated to the
private sphere. The Women's Graphic Center sought to change this, both
by providing women access to printing equipment [SLIDES: LETTEPRESS -
WB73.5; WGC CLASS - WB81.488; WB81.495] (by which they could make their
communications public), and with a philosophy that sought to directly
undermine the schism between public and private communications. [SLIDE:
WGC POSTER-WB80.2065]. This project was frequently made explicit. Artists
were invited to make posters about a specific public site [SLIDES: PUBLIC
ANNOUNCEMENTS/PRIVATE CONVERSATIONS - WB81.501; WB81.502; WB81.506; WB81.507;
WB81.508; WB81.509], and then display their works in that site. If women
came to the Woman's Building with a tendency to keep their work private,
within the Women's Graphic Center they were encouraged to think about
public venues for their work, such as bus posters celebrating the lives
of women [SLIDES: BUS POSTERS - WB78.366; WB78.367; WB88.1002] or postcards
dedicated to female role models [SLIDES: POSTCARDS - WB85.2144; WB85.2148;
*** The Woman's Building. What other city but Los Angeles
could have given birth to such an edifice? City of extremes, pressed against
the brink of the Pacific, the endpoint of our restless explorations. City
of dreams, where multitudes flock to reinvent themselves, to live out
their personal myth. City that has slipped from the yoke of tradition,
eluded the burden of history. City that levels and starts anew. The Woman's
Building was a place. [SLIDE: SIGNAGE - WB76.161] An institution. A gathering
of women. It was an eighteen-year experiment. It was a collision of history
and politics and art. It was poetry, painting, performance. It was the
one night you went there for a dance and it was the thirteen years you
spent trying to keep it ablaze. It was the day you showed up with hennaed
hair only to find that five other women had hennaed their hair the night
before too. It was the rope straining in your hands as you hoisted the
ten-foot-tall sculpture of a naked female figure onto the roof of the
building, from which vantage point the entire city was her domain. [SLIDES:
NAKED LADY - WB78.346; WB78.352] It was a field of crosses planted on
the lawn of City Hall by women dressed in nuns' habits the colors of the
rainbow, in protest of nuclear arms. It was a wall made of bottles, a
tree of dolls' heads. A circle of women who stared unflinching into the
video lens and told the stories of their sexual abuse. It was the dope
you smoked on the fire escape, the Friday nights you stayed late trying
to figure out how to pay the bills. It was the first book you self-published
on the antique printing press; it was the consciousness-raising group
you hated. Language splinters under the complexity, the immensity, the
tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of women whose imaginations and emotions
and lives touched and were touched by the Woman's Building. All their
stories, their dreams. And it was the art that was made within its walls,
yes, but also the art that was made by some woman in some little town,
work that came into being because she'd heard that the Woman's Building
dared to exist.
The Woman's Building offered up a spark, and this was
the message in its glow: that you, a woman, could be an artist too, and
that your woman's life-whatever its particulars-could kindle your art,
and that in turn, the act of making art would ignite that life, and finally,
that a community of women, engaged in the twin acts of making art and
making a new life, would transform the mirrors of culture into windows
through which you all would fly, like sparks, into the night sky. MISSING
SLIDES AS OF 4/21: WHO SAID A WOMAN CAN'T FRESNO BUILDING WOMEN MALTA
WGC-EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS
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