The art world is generally dominated by male figures, but the most rebellious female artists fought for recognition and succeeded at instilling feminist themes in their works. However, they were plagued by the dominant patriarchal mentality of their time, which is clearly depicted in their masterpieces. A combination of confrontational and graceful, these talented artists inspired women around the world to take a stance against sexism and reconsider the behavioural concepts that were considered the norm.
Luckily, women in the modern day world are just as adamant about stomping female stereotypes and in a recent article we listed the most encouraging feminist celebrities in Hollywood, and how they’re changing the standards of the entertainment industry with their outspoken nature. But for now, let’s take a trip through art history and look at the most rebellious female artists and their most important creations.
5. Hannah Wilke (1940 – 1993)
This beautiful painter, sculptor, and photographer was mostly concerned with the common model of female vanity and narcissism, as well as men’s constant focus on her own looks. Therefore, her works, which feature a large collection of self-portraits in which she presents herself as a goddess, or pin-up model, are meant to demonstrate how women can take their beauty into their own hands, instead of abiding to the male idea of femininity. Her most famous composition, titled Starification Object Series (1974-82) consists of photographs of Hannah Wilke with pieces of gum stuck to her body and face, in representation of the female reproductive organ, as well as men’s eyes.
4. Adrian Piper (1948 – Present)
As a conceptual artist, Adrian Piper has confronted the American society with its issues regarding social and racial discrimination by exposing the public to its silent treatment of the matter. Therefore, her performance pieces are provocative and enticing: in her 1970 Catalysis piece, for example, Piper drenched her clothes in a mix of pungent smelling chemicals and then rode the subway, thereby facing the public with their reactions of distaste towards her image of poverty.
3. Georgia O’Keefe (1887 – 1986)
This Wisconsin born artist may not have broken all boundaries of the art world, but she was certainly amongst the more daring women of her time. As the spouse of modernist photographer Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keefe would pose nude for his portraits, but it was her own exploration of the female body which made her a real feminist. Her large paintings of landscapes all resembled and pointed towards the vaginal form, putting the female reproduction organ in the centre of attention, which at that time was still unusual.
2. Claude Cahun (1894 – 1954)
While the diversity of gender roles is a more common subject in the current art world, it was a very shocking theme at the beginning of the 20th century. But the surrealist artist and photographer Claude Cahun faced this controversial topic head on in her body of work. Between the 1920s and 1940s, she took a series of self-portraits in male clothes, using hairstyles and make-up to transform her image accordingly.
1. Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010)
Nicknamed the Spiderwoman, due to the multiple gigantic spider sculptures she created, Louise Bourgeois is one of the 20th century’s most significant female artists. The French-American sculptor dissected the masculinist art form and reshaped it by focusing on the themes of childhood trauma and hidden agendas. Her father’s constant infidelity towards her mother was a subject that tormented the artist for the majority of her life, driving her to question the double standards imposed on gender and sexuality. Her focus on the element of male betrayal, which was often swept under the rug, makes her one of the most rebellious female artists in history.