Virginia Film Festival: !WAR

Posted on November 7, 2011 by

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After conversations about transgender art, panelist Terri Allard‘s show at The Southern the previous night, and mumblings about too much butter on the popcorn, producer Doro Bachrach introduced Lynn Hershman Leeson’s film !Women Art Revolution (!WAR)—a documentary history of the feminist art movement—to audiences at the Virginia Film Festival, describing what was to follow as a deeply personal “insider movie.”

Hershman Leeson started making this film in 1964 as a recently radicalized student at Berkeley from her living room where she interviewed the people and artists that passed through.  More than 40 years and thousands of hours of footage later, !WAR is released.  It is both her personal memoir as well as an encyclopedic record of feminist politics and art candidly expressed by those very women involved.

Hershman Leeson’s provocative documentary captures the frustrations, inspirations, politics, and spirit of women artists, curators, critics, and historians and their collective action against major cultural institutions.  And a “!WAR” it was indeed.  From congressmen debating a bill put forth on the Senate floor to shut down Judy Chicago’s show “The Dinner Party” for its “pornographic” qualities to the masked Guerrilla Girls bringing the discrimination of museums and academic institutions humorously to light, !WAR documents the fight of women for their art.

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After the screening, a panel of local artists and academics spoke about art, feminism, and the struggle that continues today.  The panelists included local Americana singer/songwriter Terri Allard, actress, performance artist and founder of CLAW (Charlottesville Lady’s Arm Wrestling) Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell, and UVA Art History and American Studies faculty Carmenita Higginbotham.

In !WAR, Hershman Leeson described art as her “zone of safety and survival.”  During the panel, Tidwell discussed this notion of letting go of gender roles as she whipped out a fake beard from her jacket pocket, which she has worn to CLAW events as the “Bearded Lady” and which she dons occasionally when she gets caught up in her identity as a woman.

Discussion ranged from the limitations women artists still face in today’s institutional structure to the legacy the feminist movement has left us—“I’m not a feminist, am I?” wonders Allard only to realize that her own assured sense of ambition is surely a product of the feminist women she was raised by.  Younger, more recent artists, such as Miranda July, were interviewed for the film and underscored the strength the feminist art movement of the 70s still has, as younger artists grow and build upon the legacy left to them.

“I know how much is left out of this film,” Hershman Leeson says, as she wonders how to edit the thousands of hours of footage, what art and which voices to include, knowing that there will inevitably be neglected histories, but in keeping with her principles and efforts to reverse the omissions of the past, you can find every minute of footage at rawwar.org.

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