There’s a new show of old works at The Photographers’ Gallery – but they couldn’t feel more relevant now. Titled Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s, it features over 200 works by 48 influential feminist artists during the 1970s. The photos, films, collage pieces and installations on display may hail from four decades ago, but a cold, hard look at where we are now – pay inequality for women, Donald Trump's words of wisdom, French police ordering a woman to remove her burkini – shows these works are as timely as ever.
Sexuality, identity, domesticity and the body are the broad themes explored in the show, with two floors of the gallery split into the four respective sections. Many of the artists featured are established practitioners, including Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman and Hannah Wilke, while rarer works by artists including Katalin Ladik and Birgit Jürgenssen are a joy to discover.
There’s plenty of humour, even though the attitude is angsty, provocative and tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek. In the 1974 performance piece Housewives’ Kitchen Apron, Jürgenssen wears an apron-shaped mobile stove and oven, while in The Marxist Housewife (Still Does the Housework), Alexis Hunter shows a manicured woman’s hand cleaning a photograph of Karl Marx.
Also exuding a powerful presence are works by self-portraiture queen Cindy Sherman, including the haunting Untitled (Lucy), where the artist photographs herself dressed up as Lucille Ball. Elsewhere, Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper, a large-scale collage by Mary Beth Edelson, uses Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper as a powerful statement of how women have been excluded in the discussions regarding religion and various cultures.
Challenging, inventive and never less than intriguing, Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s moves and provokes in equal measure. It is a stark reminder that however far women's roles have progressed, we still have more in common with our 70s forebears than we may like to think.
Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s is at The Photographers’ Gallery until 15 January 2017.
Text by Jainnie Cho