FEMINISTO: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Housewife

Posted by: Joan Braderman

The following is from “HERESIES: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics,” Volume 3, No. 1, Issue 9, 1980.  It is featured here courtesy of Joan Braderman, a founding member of HERESIES.

“This British ‘Postal Event’ is a constantly changing and growing body of portable, mailable works. It began early in 1975, when Kate Walker’s friend and neighbor Sally Gollop moved out of South London. Both women were artists and mothers and housewives and had participated in other feminist collaborations-marches and ‘A Woman’s Place’ (influenced by the Cal Arts Womanhouse). As they began to exchange objects and pictures through the mails, they realized this was a new way ‘to develop a visual language accessible to women, corresponding with our own experiences and breaking down our isolation.’ They spread the word, involving women who were and were not artists and feminists, women of different ages, ideologies and marital status, most of whom did not know each other. In May 1976, the first exhibition was held in Manchester; it consisted of nearly 300 works. Since then, the show has been to Liverpool, Birmingham (twice), Edinburgh, London, Melbourne and Berlin. Each time, the installations differ as local groups cope with a basic contradiction: how to place effectively these expressions of domestic isolation and frustration-this anger against the prevailing male ‘artocracy’within the white-walled neutral spaces intended for a very different kind of art. At the ICA in London, for instance, the challenge was met by building a house pastiche which broke the space up into intimate rooms.

The aim of the ‘Postal Event’ is communication: ‘We are attempting to create our own image-language; to sew a cloth of identity that other women may recognize. Our creativity derives from non-prestigious folk traditions. It is diverse and integrated into our lives; it is cooked and eaten, washed and worn.’ Certain images surface frequently: views from kitchen windows, candy boxes, make-up kits, media collages, crocheted and knitted objects-many venting a real rage. Some of the women see themselves ‘vomiting all our hang-ups’ and ‘getting rid of all the shit before our own images can be born.’  Press and public sometimes respond in kind: ‘Unsuitable for children,’ said Northwest Arts (about work created in the kitchens and sewing corners of all these mothers). ‘Pornographic.’ ‘Tatty.’ ‘Self-pitying.’ ‘You’re bitter and twisted; you just want to make other people as bitter as yourselves.’ And, from a man: ‘I don’t see what all the fuss is about.’

Some women simply hoped to find solace in creativity, while others were seeking ‘a feminist perspective to put art into a directly political sphere,’ as participant Monica Ross wrote. ‘The contemporary art scene is just another sphere where women have taken second place. Its elite and obscure nature has developed in the interest of capital. False standards, ethics, and competition combine to isolate all artists and to inhibit the development of meaningful communication.” In the ‘Postal Event,’ ‘We don’t compete. We share images and experiences. The posting of one piece of work from one woman to another makes ownership ambiguous.’”

At the time this article was written in 1980, Kate Walker, mother of two teenage daughters, was active in the women’s art movement in England – organizing conferences, slide shows, a feminist arts magazine; lecturing and exhibiting.  

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