Declaration of Commitment to Feminist Practices in Art
Permanent Assembly of Women Art Workers
Given increased awareness of forms of sexual harassment in the art world, we—artists, curators, researchers, writers, gallerists, art workers—state our commitment to feminist practices. This document, which we invite you to sign, is intended to create awareness of patriarchal practices that shape the exercise of power in the art world. The open letter “We Are Not Surprised” issued a “call upon art institutions, boards, and peers to consider their role in the perpetuation of different levels of sexual inequity and abuse, and how they plan to handle these issues in the future.” In this statement of commitment to feminist practices, we attempt to expand awareness of the patriarchal and sexist behavior pervasive in the art world, behavior that regulates how we position ourselves. While this statement addresses, first, the historical exclusion and devaluation of women artists, its proposals can be embraced by women, men, or those with non-normative identities. It sets out to act as a suggested guide to personal and institutional practices.
Concerning the structure of the art world
- We demand equal representation in the art world (strategically 50% instead of the current 20%): the collections of museums and other cultural institutions, as well as in private collections; group shows; awards and distinctions (parity in the number of awards and distinctions given, and jury members); art fairs; representations at international events such as biennials; reproductions of works in books and catalogs; covers of magazines and journals; and number of artists represented by art galleries. Parity should be the guideline in all of the arts (in the programming of concerts and works in the performing arts, and in literature). We will make visible and dismantle the unequal distribution of funding, resources, and income (between different genders, between “centers” and “peripheries,” between different social sectors).
- We will work for parity in the top-level positions at the artistic, educational, and cultural institutions that determine and enact policies in the visual arts. In Argentina, there are few female museum directors; the most powerful positions at art institutions are mainly held by men. Women generally hold mid-level jobs, performing “feminine” tasks linked to the patrimonial sphere (restoration, cataloging, conservation) or at the head of initiatives in education; if they do hold top-level jobs, it is usually at museums considered “minor” in relation to the “centers” of the arts (decorative art museums, museums of fashion design). The privileged speakers on panels or at roundtables are mostly men, and “stars” of the art world are overwhelmingly male. In organizations (not only at commercial venues, but also at self-run and supposedly horizontal spaces like assemblies and art projects), we will make ourselves visible and avoid to be placed only in the traditional roles of secretary, administrative assistant, press officer, while men are assigned creative and leadership tasks. We will attempt to work solely with those who feel that everyone is capable of acting and of learning.
- We will be aware that heterosexual men are not the only ones to engage in patriarchal behavior: women can be extremely patriarchal when they act in an authoritarian manner and mistreat others. The gay culture can also be patriarchal. We will strengthen our alliance with “locas” and the queer community in order to dismantle gay misogyny. We will recognize male colleagues that follow feminist perspectives in their practices.
- We will analyze the position of women and other feminized bodies in issues of race, social class, age, geography, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other differential vectors, and actively work to subvert the overwhelming discriminatory and excluding tendency in the art world that favors white, middle or upper class, young, and well-connected artists. We will support research and greater visibility of women artist with different social backgrounds and cultures. We will point out and analyze the exclusion of mid-career women artists and the recent and growing phenomenon of late recognition of female artists, which the press has called, in dismissive and discriminatory tone, “granny recognition.”
Concerning behaviors in the art world
- We will not fall into the trap of the personal accusation (“She is difficult”): institutions and powerful figures always want to convince us that asking for our due, setting boundaries, fighting for the dignity of our work, means that we are uppity and out of line, or outright “crazy,” “hysterical,” or “problematic.”
- Whenever we are about to criticize, aloud or otherwise, another woman, we will stop to consider whether we are engaging in a learned form of hatred. Misogyny is ingrained in the collective unconscious, and we have to take it apart within ourselves. When in doubt, we will ask ourselves what would happen if a man were doing the thing we are criticizing.
- We will avoid expending too much energy supporting the careers of our male colleagues rather than those of our female colleagues. We will cultivate respectful and egalitarian working relationships with the men in our milieu without enabling micro acts of sexism.
- When we have the chance to help another woman gain confidence in herself, we will. If a woman helps us gain confidence, we will recognize it and thank her.
- We will avoid being discredited by acts of paternalism and demand revision of the language used by our male colleagues to neutralize our arguments and to impose their own. We will seek to keep our male colleagues from explaining to and correcting us (mansplaining) on the assumption that we know little about a given subject.
- We will not be intimidated by volume or tone of voice, or by the physical stature, of our male interlocutors. None of that makes them right.
- We will not feel ashamed of the issues we are interested or involved in: shame is one of the patriarchy’s strategies to hinder research on certain topics.
- We will explicitly oppose strategies of power and those who engage in them every time we come across them.
- We will listen to each other and share experiences, because the personal is always political. We will promote friendship between women. We counter corporative sexism with solidarity between women (sorority).
Concerning the artistic career and creativity
- We will create as much as we can. We will not be afraid to be ambitious. Creating more is a way to work for gender equality.
- We will identify and ward off the plundering of our artistic ideas and practices, which often go unnoticed when produced or enacted by women only to gain notoriety when produced or enacted by men. We will draw public attention to that when it happens. We have noticed that qualities associated with “feminine” art are considered minor, kitsch, amateurish, childish, or ridiculous in the work of women artists but valued if in the work of men.
- We will challenge the definition of “artistic career” as full-time dedication to the production of work to commercial ends. As women, we know that our ability to work is often conditioned by motherhood and by the work of caring for our families and their needs—material and emotional. We will uphold careers that include interruptions as a specific value in our practices. We will fight for the equal distribution of domestic work and care (including emotional support) and question how naturally those tasks are imposed to us and how naturally we embrace them.
- We reject the concept of “the genius,” of the master artist, and of the canon of “good art” regulated by patriarchal parameters.
- We will cast off the “expert eye” capable of discerning, almost mystically, artistic quality.
Concerning artistic feminism and feminist art history
- We will not avoid identifying ourselves as feminist artists or as feminist art historians when our practices encompass feminist art, politics, and activism. We will take pride in calling our work feminist insofar as it questions the dominant hetero-patriarchal system.
- We will question the stereotyped images of “women” according to patriarchal discourses. We will build our own categories.
- We will study the work of women artists, researchers, and theorists; we will heed their legacies; we will reexamine the power over us exercised by patriarchal genealogies; we will value women’s knowledge.
- We will reexamine what and whom we cite and how we have internalized patriarchal thinking and principles of authority in our practices.
- We will analyze the patriarchal language that dominates the construction of art history (terms like genius, manifesto, teacher) to develop another perspective, other stories and other art histories.
- We demand that female authors of art history and theory be included in academic curricula.
- We will mention female colleagues and their work in conversations with curators, collectors, gallerists, and other agents in the art field. We will attend lectures, read interviews, and study work pertinent to women artists—an effective way to criticize the dominant patriarchal genealogies.
- We will never name female artists as the wives or partners of male artists, linking them solely to male genealogies. We will avoid using the last name of the male member of the couple and the first name of the female member (e.g. Frida and Diego Rivera). Art history has been built on the marginalization of women in artist couples and in the relationships between male masters and female disciples. We will underscore women’s independent identities, trajectories, and the place they occupy in the map of creativity.
- We will make visible and condemn the power systems that belittle the work of women artists on the assumption that they have gained legitimacy in exchange for sexual favors.
- We will attend women’s meetings and conferences and propose sessions on art and feminism. We will speak out in order to compare women’s situation in the arts and in other spheres of creation and knowledge.
- We will pay attention to and learn from the collective, participatory, collaborative, and horizontal nature of feminism in history and its relationship to other subaltern, discredited, and oppressed forms of cultural expression
- We will work so that the claims for recognition of women artists not recognized during their lifetimes or at the peaks of their productivity is not a passing trend.
- We will support creation, knowledge, and circulation of collaborative, participatory, and community art, outside the traditionally elitist art field.
- We will uphold modes of perception based on inclusiveness, on affect, and on equality as opposed to a logic of exclusion and individualism, of patriarchal values that dominate both society and the art world.
- We will publicly point out that the exclusion of the work of women artists entails systemic and systematic censorship of our sensibilities, of our poetics and forms of knowledge. That silencing means that viewers have access only to male forms of seeing and being in the world.
Concerning the inclusive nature of this statement
- We will fight to make the male art community and the art community in general open to different (and equally important) sensibilities.
- We understand, and encourage our male colleagues to understand, that men as well as women and everybody in between can make this commitment. The principles of fairness and respect must be applied, preached, and upheld by all.
- We believe that feminism is connected to awareness of discrimination and oppression not only of women, but of all other individuals dismissed for reasons of class, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation: feminism is an emancipatory dialectical moment for everyone.
- We will not be accomplices to any form of sexist violence, from the most visible to the most subtle and imperceptible. We will look for effective non-punitive, solutions: we will protect ourselves and protect our spaces. We will be there for each other
The impetus for this proposal was the unexpected and premature death of Argentine artist Graciela Sacco, who doggedly combated many of the behaviors described here.
On November 7, 2017, we founded the Permanent Assembly of Art Workers to promote feminist practices. We call on the global art community to organize the International Women’s Strike on March 8, 2018.
- translated by Jane Brodie