One of sex-positive feminism's central goals is to wrest female sexuality and its representations away from the clutches of patriarchal control, and often, sex-positive feminist art has a way of accomplishing this through the visual when the written and spoken word fails. This kind of aesthetic activism is exemplified by a new exhibition at the Dallas Contemporary, "Black Sheep Feminism: The Art of Sexual Politics," which showcases the work of four artists who challenged the sexual status quo in the 1970s. Joan Semmel, Anita Steckel, Betty Tompkins and Cosey Fanni Tutti each explored explicit female sexuality through diverse artistic practices, but all faced a level of exclusion from the feminist/art community as a result.
The "feminist porn wars," which began percolating in the late 1970s and reached their zenith in the 1980s is in part to blame for the pushback these artists received. Two ideological camps materialized at the time: the anti-censorship feminists, and those who believed the misogyny inherent in porn and explicit media should be stopped at all costs — and by government intervention if necessary. Although critiques of adult entertainment remain a part of feminist thought today — and rightfully so — the sex positive feminist side arguably "won" the war, which paved the way for more complex and challenging representations of female sexuality in art and beyond. Here are five contemporary sex-positive feminist artists who carry on this legacy of aesthetic activism through a variety of methods and mediums:
1. Zanele Muholi
This South African artist's intimate and arresting photography, video, and installation art gives voice to her black LGBTQ* community and the prejudice and violence they face at home and around the world.
2. Kate Durbin
Blurring the lines between pop culture and high culture and reframing the selfie and selfie-taking as a fertile ground for feminist performance art, Kate Durbin's work seamlessly integrates IRL and URL.
3. Leah Schrager
As the sole subject of her digital and IRL work, Leah Schrager collapses the categories of both artist and muse in her boundary-pushing explorations of objectification and empowerment and the personal and the political.
4. Go! Push Pops
Whether challenging the epidemic of military rape or exploring the aesthetic archetypes of hip hop, this transnational, radical, queer, feminist performance art collective is embodied feminism at its most colorful and eclectic.
5. Naomi Elena Ramirez
At the intersection of dance, performance art, and photography, Naomi Elena Ramirez's work in an unabashed look at the semiotics of the erotic, and how female sexuality and its representations populate and are perverted by pornography and mass media.
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