How do you visualise a woman in the 21st century?

Image: Linder. Pretty Girls (detail), 1977. Courtesy of the artist and Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London

Inspired by our Autumn 2016 exhibition, Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s: Works from the Verbund Collection, we have asked a diverse range of artists, writers, performers and feminist thinkers to respond to the subject of feminism – both historical and contemporary – and collected them together in the new issue of our quarterly publication Loose Associations. We wanted to consider what impact (conscious or otherwise) such ideology and actions have had on artistic practice today, and to explore the current face(s) of feminism within this framework. It feels both signicant and essential to be addressing such a subject now, at a point where feminism as a term and movement feels so fractured, and so subsumed, for better or worse, by popular culture.


Birgit Jürgenssen, Nest, 1979 © Estate Birgit Jürgenssen. Courtesy of Galerie Hubert Winter, Vienna / VG Bildkunst, Bonn 2015 / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Vienna

In an exclusive short story by acclaimed Scottish writer Ali Smith, she visualises, and fictionalises, her female character thus:

“I’d been browsing in a bookshop to get out of the rain and someone had left a book open on top of a pile of books on a table next to the stationery section. The picture, of a woman’s lower body in which, instead of a genital area, the woman had a nest with a couple of eggs in it, was what it was open at. I glanced at it and something about it made me look again. A woman sitting on a fur sort of rug was balancing a nest with eggs in it at her crotch. I smiled. Then I laughed. Then I wandered round the bookshop for a bit and went back out into the wet afternoon. I didn’t think any more of it, until a couple of days later at home when I began to feel scratchy and irritated below the waist and found, when I went to the bathroom to have a look, why.”

Relatedly, one key concern of this project, central to the new issue of Loose Associations, is the question: How do you visualise a woman in the 21st century? We have posed this question directly to a number of contributors in the book, who include ANOHNI, Juno Calypso, Helen Cammock, Emma Dabiri, Eva Dawoud, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Paloma Faith, Juliet Jacques, Linder, Nina Power, Aura Satz, Tomoko Sawada, Sebastian Scheming, Tai Shani and Linda Stupart. In various ways, some have responded with writing, others with images and some with both.

In her response, Nina Power states:

“If the photograph changed the way we see, the internet has changed the way we read. ‘Visualisation’ is another language game, and ‘woman’ a particularly contested term, yet subject to exactly the same kinds of fort-da promotion and erasure as women’s bodies always have been.”


Lorraine O’Grady, Mlle Bourgeoise Noire (Miss Black Middle-Class), 1980–1983/2009. Untitled (Mlle Bourgeoise Noire shouts out her poem) © Alexander Gray Ass., New York / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Reni Eddo-Lodge, in her essay Black is a Feminist Issue, writes:

“Black feminism drags the movement back to its revolutionary roots. It is first and foremost a movement to dismantle all oppression. To fundamentally transform the world we live in so that it works for all, and marginalises none, and to trace the links that lock women out of prosperity, power, and autonomy.”

In another essay, artist Linda Stupart responds to the question in part by recalling something they wrote on Facebook, which combines image and text and considers the role of the artist with respect to gender and the body today:

“Two days ago I posted a request on my Facebook ‘wall’. It reads:

‘Hi friends could people please use they/them pronouns for me and ask other people to do the same also I really don’t want to talk about it tbh thx’.

The text is accompanied by a low res. 3D modeled blob GIF – one of my own. It spins slowly in space.”  


Image courtesy Linda Stupart, 2016.

The many passionate and multifarious voices that inform the debate today are necessarily and rightfully seeking to broaden any singular definition of femimism and feminists; to address wider and interrelated cultural patterns of oppression that are bound together by intersectional systems of society which include race, gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity and religious belief. We encourage you to have your say in the comments feed below. How do you visualise a woman in the 21st century?

Our quarterly publication Loose Associations is available to order here, and the exhibition opens to the public on Friday. 

With thanks to Club des Femmes for providing the question, ‘How do you visualise a 21st Century Woman?’ from an ongoing project, which also formed the basis of a studio activity during the exhibition, Feminist Avant-Garde of the 70s.

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