Part 1 of 2
Lynn Hershman: First I want to know what the conflicts were in the feminist art movement. What were the real problems?
Suzanne Lacy: Race was a big conflict, and not only race, the fact that there were mostly white women involved in a lot of the early feminist art movement, but all of the racism of the culture would come into it. But, also I think there was, for those of us who did cross over work there were conflicts around strategies, appropriate strategies.
LH: You mentioned that the strategy for the movement was not effective as it could have been.
Judy Baca: I think the Achilles heel of the feminist movement was the racial issue, which had to do with a notion, early on, that feminist adopted, which were primarily white feminists, that one sort of rubric of the intentionality of the feminist movement, or the central issues should be defined by this single group, and that it should be propagated widely. I mean I remember very big arguments in that direction, which people would say, Why isn’t it the issue of abortion, for example, the central issue for Latinas? I remember having these tooth-and-nail, knock down drag out arguments about these issues. I think part of it was at the beginning of a civil rights movement for the Chicano community in California. We were still defining our issues. Our work within the feminist movement, my work, for example, within the feminist movement, was considered a betrayal of the larger issues, which was how to deal with the issue of color and class within an immigrant population and a population that were essentially not immigrants.
They were indigenous people of California, as the kids would say, in which the border crossed us, we didn’t cross the border. That notion of the border crossing us and redefinition of California as not a territory of Mexico as recent as 1848 was primary in our minds, along with sovereignty issues in terms of land rights, the issues of defining our own culture and our own ethnic production. What was our production to be like if it wasn’t western European? So, these larger issues. . . .how can we deal with economic rights in a city like Los Angeles in which was basically thriving on immigrant labor that was kept impoverished by the sweatshops and. . .literally, the city of Los Angeles was founded on mission sites, in which the first missions were placed over the top of indigenous villages. And that practice, all the way to the sweatshops—contemporary ones of today, which actually hasn’t changed a bit, it’s really the same practice. That was what we were coping with. And in light of that, how do you relate to the larger issues of women within this structure? And it certainly wasn’t to be defined by white women. So, I struggled with the betrayal notions. I was betraying the movement by being a feminist.
I had arguments with other Chicana artists, who are actually very prominent women now, who probably would say they’re feminists now. Saying that, very early on, me saying we could not rely on the men to make these decisions for us. Even the notion of showing. . . when I did the first Chicana showing at the women’s building, it was a show called Las Venas a la Mujer, it was in 1970—I want to say 1977-76, or something like that, and I brought a group of Chicanas together to do that exhibition. The idea of showing in the women’s building, which was considered to be a white feminist kind of hierarchy. . . hierarchical structure. The idea of women showing separately, alone, as Chicanas, was a problem. And the idea of us defining our issues as separate from the larger issues that affected the entire community, was also a problem. It seems strange, but you have to remember this is also a time in which simply placing a brown face in a public sight in a mural was problematic.
SL: Can I go back for a minute? Because I think Judy raised an important issue that is perhaps different in our practice than some of the other women in our generation and potentially of women today, and that is that she immediately launched into a description of a larger social movement. In your case it was the Chicana movement, in my case it was the feminist movement. It was not grounded in the art world, and in fact, I think in certain ways we were emissaries, at least I was, of that kind of politic into the art world. So, I think what’s important to understand about that time and its struggles with race and class and various other things is that for some of us, we came right out of and were contextualized within political, social movement, not an art movement. We were essentially inventing the art movement. And that’s going to make our references much broader in terms of issues like. . . you know immediately started talking about the border and issues of poverty and sweatshops in other countries. Those kinds of issues were very important to some few of us because we always saw our practice as feminist artists—I’ll speak for myself—my practice as a feminist artist was as a feminist and an artist. And I think that we were exploring what that connection is.
JB: I said I was an activist and an artist, and I couldn’t. . .and probably I wouldn’t have defined myself as a feminist first. Although I ended up being one and I would say perhaps taking the most radical position of our movement among the women, because I found that simply relating to the men within the movement was impossible. I mean, there wasn’t space for us to do our work as women and to basically redefine those issues for ourselves. So, I was in struggle with the men within our Chicano movement, and I was in struggle with feminist white artists, and I was in struggle with the art world. So, it was pretty much, I found my positionality in relationship to communities, to communities of consciousness and geographic communities in Los Angeles.
LH: What was the conflagration of elements that caused this all to happen, why did it happen at that particular time?
SL: I think that would probably be slightly different for both of us, but we also grow out of a similar time, era.
JB: I would definitely define my moment would be the Chicano moratorium, August 29th 1969.
SL: Mine was probably reading Simone de Beauvoir, Second Sex, way back in. . . I had gotten thrown out of Vista by a bunch of guys who, white guys who were a little threatened by me. I had bonded pretty heavily with the African American culture there, and I ran into a bunch of. . . in I guess it was 69, 68. . . in Washington DC. And I ran into a bunch of feminists, and they said, Oh, those guys! And we sat down to talk about the kind of things that I had never found a language for, but were basically gender specific in terms of women’s threatening styles. That a woman who is more aggressive or more assertive, there’s a certain. . . I think probably similar. . . you always had a very strong position vis a vis gender within the Latino/Latina movement because of the way the men behaved.
JB: It was the moratorium that was occurring, which was this moment in which there was a huge. . .remember this was the time of massive riots in the city of Los Angeles. The Watts riots affected my own family. I really came out of those communities, so I was always connected. I was born in Watts, in South Central, which is a black and Latino community. Then transformed us into an African American community, and then now again as a Latino community and a mixed group. So, I was always as a child walking that line between racial groups and living and working in a completely ethnic community. And then I think I spent the 18 years of my childhood in Pacoima, which is famous for the movie La Bamba. Growing up with Ricardo Valenzuela and that sort of notion. So this was happening around me.
And it was not only the movement, a social movement and a civil rights movement, but it was also the discord that was occurring in the city. The city was changing massively demographically, there were people agitating for the movement for change, there was enormous rates of people dying within, in Vietnam. Chicanos were dying disproportionately, which is actually what brought people to their feet. We were fighting for bilingual education, the right to retain our language. I was of the generation that was punished in the schools for speaking Spanish. Here in Los Angeles we had our mouth washed out for using our native tongue. Los Angeles was in itself a very particular place around how it treated its massive and majority population of Latinos, and it’s really unchanged. Those things that brought us to our feet in the 1970s are more prevalent and more difficult and more extreme today, here.
SL: One of the significant moments for me was in beginning to understand what was going on with Cesar Chavez and the farm. . .because I came from the San Joaquin Valley, and that movement was taking place and beginning to hit the college campuses at the same time as the Vietnam war. So, for me the kind of conflation of race and social change was always present. I can’t that’s true of a lot of the women that I worked with in the feminist art movement. And that has to do with something I think the movement didn’t effectively deal with, and that is class. As a working class white woman, I’m not too far removed, I’m discovering, from the Appalachian Hills, one generation actually. What happened in the 60s was a lot of us went to college for the first time. I’m the first member of my family to go to college and I’m sure you are. And a lot of us brought working class values and understanding into the university and we began, through the university, not only to transform our own class, but to transform our access.
I think transforming our class has been slightly problematic for some of us, but the aspect of transforming our consciousness and the consciousness of the academy so that it became it hotbed of radicalism of all kinds. That’s the context that I came out of, and that context—really inner city organizing with Saul Olinsky methodologies is how I entered the art world. I didn’t enter it through art history or learning how to paint or anything like that. So, I think that what happened in the 70s, it provided an opportunity for those of us with a sociopolitical consciousness to find, whether it was Marxism, like Martha Rosler, [inaudible] whether it was feminism or various kinds of ethnic identity organizing, we were able to combine nicely in a way that I think is difficult for people today, young artists. Our aesthetic, with our activism, with our past, our social experiences.
[End of Part 1]
Part 2 of 2
JB: I was thinking about, sort of adding to what Suzanne was saying, was that part of the social movement that was occurring was liberation theology. And I came out of a very deeply Catholic background, and I worked within the Catholic church as. . .I left the university as a minimalist painter. That was the prevalent notion about what painting should be. And I found this discord, I walked out into the middle of the social movement, and I began organizing in the streets. I mean, I ended up working in the streets of East Los Angeles organizing gang members. And I spent seven years doing that and creating these cadres of teams to produce public work. And so I came directly out of street writing, of graffiti and political sloganism, at the moment of Cesar Chavez’s organizing in the central valley. And I was there in the discussions when we decided whether we would bring the UFW’s issues into the urban environment. And there was great battle about this. These are not our issues, we are not campesinos, we are in the urban settings, we have issues as factory workers, people who live in the projects and so forth. And so my work came out of that, and at the same time was interlaced with people like Sister Corita Kent, who was a minimalist painter as well.
She used these sort of field color studies, and I remember hearing her speak and being very influenced. I was like in my early 20s, coming out of this very Catholic background, and hearing. . .showing her images. And she had made that image—War is not healthy for children and other living things. And I could never understand why she didn’t integrate her ideas into the way she painted. And there was that incredible disjunction at that point between content and the notion of making art. In other words, art was content-less. It was free and devoid of politics, and that was a higher form. And there was this other form, it was street writing, it was gritty, it had no meaning, it was the lowest class tatooism (cell phone).
LH: How do you preserve your work? Is preserving your work important to you?
SL: I preserve my work through film and video and that has a lot to do with the intention of the work, which is to reach a mass audience with issues that are important to mass audience. So, my videos are not necessarily an artistic. . . prevailing artistic conventions. They are really made to be, you know, made-for-television type videos. Preserving it is not as important to me as an object. What’s important to me is the battle for. . .the cliché now is the hearts and minds of the people who I care about and whose lives I want to make better. So, what I mean by that is, the impact a work has in a community is at the time. . .how that impacts continues to exist in terms of people’s lives and mythology is more important to me that preserving as an object. But I think that, although Judy and I share a lot of similarities in terms of our approach to work, one of the significant differences is that I am a time-based ephemeral artist. That’s the medium I work in and that’s actually the aesthetic. That’s part of what I’m referring to when I refer to the art world, as I’m referring to the aesthetic of Bueys and Kaprow and that whole methodology and thinking that comes from fluxus and so on. I’m not as interested in the preservation of the object itself. I don’t make that kind of art.
JB: I’ve thought a great deal about preservation, and conservation, and in fact have been doing more that I’d really like to have to do about this. I’ve actually been addressing a national conservationist conference of conservators. I’ve been writing and speaking about it because I think that conservation practices really don’t understand the kind of work that many of us have done in public art, for example, or public murals. What has happened is that some of this work has become important to preserve, because they become monuments, like the great wall of Los Angeles, for example, has become a monument to an alternate history. We are in the midst of this conservation right now. And what’s really clear to me is that the work needs to be conserved the way that it was made, and that it must be conserved, in terms of not just the two millimeters of paint on the surface of an exterior site, but also the process, which is a critical element of it.
In other words, Suzanne and I might have a similar belief system is that that process, that part, which is the ephemeral part of the work, and that’s probably the majority of the work. My work leaves a record of that process. And hers is in the film and mine is in the two millimeters of paint. But previous to that, three quarters of the work is in the community cultural development work. That work in which the community has interacted with us, in which it participates to create the monument.
SL: Let me say that I think that that’s one of the things that we want to make sure that we talk about, which is the pedagogy that has grown out of feminist activist work. One of my . . . . I’ve become, I wouldn’t say alienated, from feminist, but alienated from the feminist art movement over the past ten or fifteen years because I’ve seen it since the early 80s take some tangents in some different directions. One is. . . the important aspect of feminism, it still works well with ethnic issues, is the identity piece. The second is the activist piece that I think has kind of taken us into the area where we are now called more public artists than feminist artists or community-based artists. But the third area is in pedagogy. There . . . for both of us, there are people who write extensively about our art practice as a feminist pedagogical practice, and you’ll see that in certain education schools, masters and Ph.D. programs across the country where people are exploring the methodology of the process that Judy was talking about, as a teaching device and as a form of public pedagogy.
That’s pretty much where I situate my work. I think that the. . . it’s no coincidence that Judy and I have collaborated on one significant program on the Cal State University Monterey Bay Visual and Public Art Institute, which is an entire art curriculum dedicated to the fact that you will never be able to separate the little piece of strategy in terms of our naming, that you will never be able to separate the visual and the public. So you couldn’t have a print making program without the public component being front and center.
JB: Or the process from the object. So, in other words, this is a very big dilemma for the art world. You can imagine, conservation is based on the value of objects. I mean, what is preserved? What is historicized and remembered? Has to do with the value of the object. But if you had painted in a flood control channel, essentially a sewer, a half a mile long mural, what value is that? What if four hundred young people participated, who actually were transformed by the experience? And what if thousands of other people contributed ideas and thoughts and their stories. Well, one of the interesting things about conserving that work is conserving those people, their experiences. And so one of the things we’re working on right now very intently, is the creation of methods of historicizing it, in a DVD for example, we’re creating a collection of testimonies and the stories of all the people who produced that work. And that is equally as significant as the two millimeters of paint.
SL: That’s one of the things that I think is also a common strategy between us, and it comes straight out of political activism, which is, I think we both believe very strongly in the equity of all people and the ability of all people to represent some piece of their truth. My performances are really giant quilts, in a way. They’re like living opportunities for multiple people to express their own value systems and their own experiences without any kind of onerous framing that predetermines their reality. They’re basically places where two hundred people will speak simultaneously about their truths. So, . . . and I learned some piece of that from both feminism and the great wall, where the great wall was the telling of the history of California from the perspective of women and people of color, and the feminist movement in the early days was very involved with the relationship between art as an opportunity for women to reinvent their selves outside of, as much as possible, social conscriptions. In both cases, art was seen as a way to express the reality of peoples whose voices aren’t expressed culturally. And that certainly is continuing for me, the way I work today.
JB: And that brings up this issue, is should those voices be preserved? And the answer is yes. I mean, that’s not something I thought of in advance. And in a sense my work is ephemeral. And you’re right. It’s very ephemeral, because you’re talking about the lifetime of a public mural, particularly in the ways they were produced, is being maximum 25 years. And we’ve already seen the limit of that in the great wall, is 28 years old. One of the things I’ve been working on intently, is how to give these works, the new works that I’m doing, long lives, both in the fact that they will exist in cyberspace, as an interactive work on the internet, and the other is that we’re working on new substrates, so that that if they’ve been censored—they’ve been subject to a tremendous amount of censorship—and in the ????. In other words, conservation is a method of censorship with hindsight. In other words, what is preserved by who decides can select out all the works that are offensive to officialdom. And they’ve been very effective in Los Angeles in destroying works that are particularly offensive.
LH: What incentive. . . .?
JB: Number one image. . . I can give you them in order. Number one image of offense in the city of Los Angeles, and this comes about also from the replication of my process in the city of Los Angeles mural program. In other words, the Great Wall became the model for a citywide program, and in fact, a national . . . an international program. People have replicated this program all over the country and all over the world. There’s a Great Wall in process in Ireland, right, between the north and south. I mean, there’s been . . . all the people producing works that are modeled on this. Number one offensive image in Los Angeles is anything that questions the authority of the police or is derogatory toward the police. Number two image that I would say that these are fairly consistent with each other, is any person of color armed. So, Huey Newton, for example, with a gun in his paramilitary image of the Black Panthers.
The most offensive image . . . it’s as if you would have revived them and put them on the streets. As if the Black Panther movement was alive and well, simply by painting them on the wall. The third image is anything homoerotic, or even maybe erotic general, but homoerotic would be the worst. So, I mean, really bizarre things like, a graffiti artists paints with a spray paint in Venice beach in a graffiti pit in this area. Which is right in the middle of a crazy, crazy place. Venice beach, everyone knows it. He paints the side of a silhouette of a young Asian girl without clothing, but it’s really not a body defined. A hundred yards away are people’s naked butts on posters. He is censored, those are not. That’s a commercial thing, and this is the public realm. Today, I get a call before I come. This is so timely. People in the Central Valley, young artist is on the phone, he’s a young Chicano, he’s speaking Spanish and English, he’s having trouble speaking English. He’s saying to me, “They pass an ordinance . . .” and interestingly the ordinance is the same ordinance as the city of Los Angeles, that basically calls for all public works to be examined by a committee. The committee has made definition. The definition says that they have to do something historical about the place.
What is historical and correct is controlled by the growers. The growers have put oakies in the packing plant images. People from Oklahoma in a 1930s image being people who have fueled an economic movement in the Central Valley. And that is in the face of Mexican immigrant workers who are impoverished and can’t even afford to buy the fruits and vegetables they pick. And that’s the image that’s going out. And he’s saying, “What shall we do, what shall we do?” These are the kinds of things that are going on today, as I said, is more severe today than even in the 70s, and you can image that censorship now is like, should we preserve this piece? No, let’s make that one go away. And, increasingly, as we have not been able to keep the control of our own intellectual currency, all of these ethnic works in the cities, which put an ethnic face on the city of Los Angeles, are being challenged. Welcome to the Bush era.
SL: I would like to talk a little bit, because I think we haven’t yet. I wanna go back to that, what do you do, because I think that’s the edge of where, could be very exciting to talk about. But, I also want to go back to our current. . . .
JB: We’re probably subverting the plant here. . . .
SL: . . . our current relationship to feminism. I’d be curious to where you stand and also for me thinking through a little bit where I stand with it now. I sort of touched on it, but do you feel much relationship. . .you’ve talked to me before about some of the young feminist artist who have applied for grad school. When you were at UC Irvine. I won’t go into graphic detail about some of the works.
JB: No it’s actually queer work, that was very interesting.
SL: Queer work and feminist work is also very closely aligned. Anyway, how do you relate now to the feminist movement?
I think there are some very strong alliances between queer work and feminist work.
JB: There were not in the . . . historically. I can recall being at a lesbian conference at UCLA, when was that 73? It was incredible. There were mountain women from Montana with [inaudible] strapped to their legs. It was a wild thing, I mean. A man couldn’t come in the room. They chased off men who came in the room.
That was a whole crazy thing. These distinctions were so extreme. The lesbian artist and the straight women artists. Women who define themselves as feminist. It was all those fine tuning of identities that people were struggling with. I’m not sure how I feel about even talking about that, because I don’t even know that it’s that interesting.
SL: I have a disappointment with feminism today. Not feminism, not feminism as a whole because that stayed a fairly international movement, which was focused on hard things, like Charlotte Bunch getting the international legislation that puts harassment or the rape of women into a human rights issue. There’s been a lot of feminists all over the world that continue to work on very big, like Ananda Shiva in India working on environmentalism and so on. The feminist artists in this country at this point in time seem very reduced in their perspective of what’s possible to me. I don’t see it as a thriving, active, aggressive social change movement. I see it as sort of reduced to a form of identity speculation, and tweaking about who you get to go to bed with and why and when, or in what manner, I guess. So, I find I relate, I continue to relate over the years to people who are activists politically and engaged with the kinds of larger social issues that I just don’t see feminism struggle with at this moment. . .feminist art struggle with at this moment in time.
LH: But there is art that is dealing with these issues.
SL: Yes, I don’t think it’s called feminist art. I think feminist art . . . . I was asking about the relationship of those of us . . . I came out of a feminist art identity, and I’ve evolved into as strong a feminist as I ever was. But, I don’t find that place a home for me. I find activist, community-based artists my home, male and female, my community of kinship. But, not people practicing feminist art. That’s what I’m saying. And I think that is a separation that happened in a political moment, and was in fact political and had something to do with the academy. Had to do with women wanting to move into the academy. And I think the whole issue around essentialism is one of naming people who are on a certain kind of activist trajectory. Validating people who are not as threatening to the academic environment. And I think feminists kind of blindly walked into that. And I find that sad that in the early days of the 70s, we were consciously. . .those of us who were activists were consciously joining forces with other activist movements and trying to make common cause. In a way that I don’t even think seems to me much of an issue. Maybe that’s changing in the last three or four years, with the technology and the political environment shifting.
LH: . . .activism being encrypted in art that’s being produced . . . .
SL: I think activism is, I’m talking about feminism. Early feminist artists were activists. To even say you were a feminist artist was to basically . . . back to that issue of definition . . . was in my mind to say you were a political being, and you were going to take your politics right into your work. And I don’t think that’s an equation that’s as prominent now as it used to be.
JB: Well, I don’t think there’s a community of consciousness anymore.
SL: I don’t either, not to the degree.
JB: I think one has to . . . Sometimes I see people describing it, like young scholars, and I was there and I listen to what they say in their papers or their discussion and I don’t even recognize the moment. It’s being historicized in ways that I don’t understand. Part of it is understanding that moment that we were all in. There was a community of consciousness. You had a choice to dip into it or not, but there was constant dialogue and a constant referencing. I mean, there was the women’s building in Los Angeles, which created this synergistic energy. And no matter what, even if you didn’t want to be part of it, or it . . . or at some point it got too lesbian, if at one point it was too straight, it was all those kinds of things, right? Nevertheless, there was a kind of focal point of energy here, and I think across the country there were various places that created that moment. Women identified as feminist artists, they were working within a set of iconography that they were starting to define, they were spreading these images and ideas. They were saying, We should be talking about this, We should be talking about that. It was all of that kind of stuff . . . .
SL: The projects were much more vast in scale. I think that’s the difference. The projects were, Oh let’s go change the world for everybody. Let’s restructure epistemology. I think the feminist artists today have a much more reduced sense of their connection. I think . . .
JB: It’s true also of every politics. It’s true of Chicano art. Is Chicano art dead? There are people who would be arguing that it is. That that notion of resistance and affirmation that was the center of the heart of that movement in which we were redefining the kind of imagery that we should use. We were basically saying, Let’s steal ecclesiastical images, Let’s steal tattoo images, Let’s steal . . .Let’s redefine those images and let’s make sure we don’t genuflect at the altars of western European art forms.
SL: The cunt work was the same thing. It paralleled the feminist movement. I think resistance is a really important work, because . . . And what I keep trying to say is, resisting in a big picture. You know, there’s a lot of fallacy about the amount of information that feminists, radical feminists had in the 70s. We were dealing with things like a clitorectomy, abuse of women in sweatshops in Korea, the whole movement that’s come out in Korea around, what were they called, the war brides. The comfort women. There were films on the comfort women in the 70s by a feminist Japanese journalist. It’s not like . . . .that information was available, it was being distributed, not as broadly as it then became distributed in the 90s, but we were operating on that knowledge. We were operating on sexual slavery, on sweatshops.
LH: What successful came out of it then? Do you feel it was effective . . .?
JB: It’s so confusing to say what’s . . . it’s a question of what is success? One can say there was great failures. I think feminism in general failed in some important essential levels, because it didn’t propagate it widely enough, we weren’t able to move beyond class and race in some essential ways. I see now today, in Mexico and in the Southwest and within the Latino community here that feminism is . . . some of the aspects of things we were touching on 30 years ago are now just starting to reach Mexico, and therefore Los Angeles, because we essential are fluid, between Mexico and here. So, but that previous work, that essential underpinning, that sort of base of interrogation I think has had an effect worldwide. I think it’s had an effect worldwide, and I think that of course there was change . . .
SL: Feminism, right, feminism or feminist art?
JB: I’m saying feminism in general, but then I’m going to extrapolate from feminist art. Art in general, one has to question whether art in general has been successful as a strategy for change, period, right? Because I think it’s constantly had this problem, sort of dichotomy of an art world that pulls it to being less relevant, being less significant, being less activist based. In other words, a whole movement that says if art is political it is not art. And in fact rewarding those who are less political, saying that this is propagandistic, or that it’s agitprop or that it’s demeaning that work. And the other side is this notion that art is about everything, that it actually can do transformative work, that it can create change. And I think increasingly are people who are looking at that and saying, wait a minute, that is possibly true. So, we have to separate out the question, can feminism change the world? And then take a step back from that and understand that feminist art is actually one manifestation of the movement.
And the question is, can you separate that? I think not. And I think that feminist art also struggled with this problem with the art world, which didn’t open its doors and automatically say, Gee, this is an interesting new work, let’s embrace it. And the same is true with ethnic art. So, it became one of the categories, ethnic art, feminist art, of that period of multi-culturalism, which is . . . where in a time now—post-multiculturalism. It’s no longer of interest, right, we’re done with that. It’s over. We’ve solved that problem, haven’t we? So, I really think . . . measuring that success is not one that is easily and readily . . . a measurement is not easily and readily available. But, we can see a real base change in terms of what people are willing to talk about. Either they’re reacting . . . my students react against feminism and feminist art. And they take up the worst of 1950s behavior of women. I go back to the 1950s and think of how we were raised, and I see young girls mimicking that, I do. It’s horrifying. Particularly Latinas. And then, I’ve seen worse than that. I see gay women mimicking that, in their relationships with each other.
SL: I’ve seen that a lot. Young gay women. They’re back into the role-play bull dyke, and you know, one woman plays a man, literally, and acts toward the other partner . . .
JB: There’s a whole constructions of butch-femme relationships. And in fact they take up butch relationships in my community, just like the men we needed to struggle against. Plus the worst oppressive male behavior of Latinos. They even wear their hair the same way. I think I’m looking at 1952.
SL: To get back to something, I would say, success is maybe….I would talk about success in terms of the feminism movement as a whole, but in terms of the feminist art movement I would say not so much success, but influences. And I think there are definite influences, some acknowledged and some not, today in the art world.
JB: I don’t see it as, that we just change the color of everything, right, that we’re able to spread a new light. But, I see it as a blinking light, this beacon.
SL: I think there are very specific things. Can you imagine Mike Kelley having a bunch of dolls and crotches on the floor of a major gallery without the 70s feminist movement, which reintroduced that kind of materiality.
JB: That’s a good point. Yeah.
SL: I’m saying, that’s an influence. Another influence is activism. I think we were really significant, and I can’t separate a lot of the ethnic from the radical feminist movements, particularly since there was so much communication between us.
JB: I can.
SL: I can, but . . . there are many cases where I don’t want to say the feminist art movement was responsible for this. There was a moment in time where I would say Marxist ethnic identity and feminists were working in different ways, but also in similar ways, and the effects that I see now have come from one or all of those. And the effects are the increased interest in pedagogy as part of an art form. Used to be called didactic, not pedagogical, and it’s much more firmed. The whole global movement has a lot to do with identity politics from the 80s, and the, like I said, the whole rise of emotive, identity-based daily life concerns I think came out of that era in those activist artists.
JB: I think one of the most powerful aspects of it that affected the ethnic art-making processes was whole notion of the personal is political. I mean, I think that was an incredibly, that became such a [inaudible] that propagated so far, it’s still influencing work. I really see that, the whole notion of being able to create a narrative on one’s life, that it was significant.
SL: You have to realize that people like Vito Acconci . . . performance came into its own at that time and one of the reasons was so many women were using the form. They were coming, like me, from other disciplines and they were applying ideas, perceptions and analyses that were not necessarily found in our history text books. So, what these women were doing was introducing a more ephemeral form of behavior or formal language within the art world, and I think the rise in that can be partially attributed to feminism. Vito Acconci . . . remember all his early work was contextualized completely by the very visible feminist movement.
SL: Judy and I went through a period early in our relationship, you know we’ve known each other 20 years, and we went through a period early on where we fought a lot, and I think eventually we learned how to work together, after 15 or 18 years. A lot of it was race issues. Not a lot, but some of it was race issues. I credit Judy with really supporting my development as a white woman in understanding the subtleties of race relations. Things like, she would come over to me and tell me something about somebody that had done something, and she was my dear friend I would try to soothe her. And I would say, Oh, you know, he didn’t really mean that . . .they didn’t really mean that. And she would say to me, How come white girls are always telling me to calm down? And I would learn some of the serious complexities about ethnic difference and ways to respond appropriately culturally because I do a lot of cross-cultural work. So, I relied upon those few really generous women, Judy being one of them, who did what is really burdensome for a person of color, which is to educate a white person about their racism. That’s one thing we fought about. Other kinds of things I won’t go into.
JB: We fought about whether it was appropriate for Suzanne to work in ethnic communities in the way that she wanted to work.
LH: And was it?
JB: Well, I think it’s still in contention. I think actually it was about . . .and actually Suzanne’s work has changed quite of bit too. I think . . .
We fought a lot and had very spirited debates. I actually remember quite a number of spirited debates. One between Judy Chicago, myself and Faith Ringgold. But, our fights were really about, how appropriate was . . . what subject matter was appropriate for a woman of . . . a white woman of Suzanne’s class and of her intentionality, and it was more about the process she used in which . . . the play between trying to live out an idea with a group of people participating, and it’s your idea. And whether those people wanted to do that or not, whether the idea or the image should arise out of the people or it should come out of Suzanne’s head.
Faith and I fought with Judy Chicago. I can’t remember if Suzanne was there, and it was actually a really interesting fight about why everyone didn’t just get behind the feminist precepts, which was at that time, women’s right to choose. And Faith and I made this case that, how we felt that it wasn’t about the economics . . . that they didn’t understand that it was about economics as well, that it was about—How could you make abortion the central issue when, some of our cultures, having the child was the greatest gift. And you couldn’t approach Latinas with that. And she made a similar case for African-American women. I don’t remember the whole fight, but it got really intense. It was a good fight. We screamed and yelled at each other and I think Faith and I left in a huff. We were in Harlem and I just remember leaving with Faith and thinking, OK, we’re ok, she can handle where we are.
There were many fights of the sort. Suzanne was moving into uncharted territory. She was trying to work across class and across race and she was struggling with her relationship to the art world, and how and artist should operate. I sort of intimated a moment ago, Suzanne always say, well the art world, and I always said, Fuck the art world, you know, Fuck the art world. Were those my exact words? Fuck the art world. What we have to do is we have to do this work with the truest intention, and if we keep facing it . . . and she would say, You have to talk to the art world in this way. And truly she helped me think about that in a different way. How to speak about my work in a way that they could tolerate. I probably would have been thrown out of a lot of places if I hadn’t had Suzanne’s council. On the other side of it, I think I gave her the strength to say, Fuck the art world, and keep doing what you need to be doing.
[End of Interview]