Is political or socially-grounded art about to make a comeback? This month Gamut Gallery in downtown Minneapolis is hosting a show called “Revolution Now: Portraits of Contemporary Women Revolutionaries” through March 21. Given that a visit to most local art shows or art buildings in many cities in the U.S. will give you everything but political or socially-conscious art, this is somewhat of a breakthrough. Decorating capitalism is mostly what present art culture is about. And we all need decoration.
However, lest you think this exhibit might involve Mother Jones, Rosa Luxembourg, Margaret Sanger or a living Angela Davis – think again. According to Gamut, they sent out a request to female artists to provide artwork that reflects the theme of present ‘revolutionary women.’ The artists chose what to create, display and sell – mostly prints. So this is a window into what these women artists are thinking. From my viewing, no living figures from past or near past were chosen.
The result is a mixture of radicalism, mild feminist portraits and vaguely conscious art. One artist felt a picture of her mother making a cake was revolutionary, because ‘love’ is revolutionary. Unfortunately it isn’t always. Others were of a software pioneer, Margaret Hamilton, who worked on Apollo 11. Others were of a cutting-edge feminist comedian, a black R&B soul singer, a creative nun, a Filipina printmaker. Another is of a woman entering a romantic Arctic wilderness to find strength. Yet if the wilderness disappears, as it is doing, there will no longer be a source of strength. A more biting print portrays chauvinist insults made against mothers, recorded by the artist.
On the increasingly political side is a color print of a member of Pussy Riot, the Russian anarchist group, some of whom paid for their atheist and anti-Putin activism with prison. Best politically and artistically in my mind are prints of Tawakkol Karmen, a Yemeni feminist and journalist who participated in the 2011 “Jasmine Revolution” in Yemen. Karmen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. She is also a member of a Yemeni off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which seems to be an odd combination. She is now living in a Yemen that has collapsed, and which might devolve into a civil war between Shiite tribesmen and Saudi/Al Qaeda Sunnis. Also pictured is world-renowned Malala Yousafzai, who was almost killed by Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan for supporting the education of girls. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. Yousafzai has been close to leftist organizations in Pakistan, unlike Karmen. Yousafzai’s portrait in the show was almost iconic – sort of a modern Che poster.
Opening night was filled with young progressives posing with plastic wine glasses. Not sure how many were looking at the paintings or pondering a purchase. This is typical of gallery openings, so you just have to steel yourself to it. However, the good news is that these prints are very affordable if you have a decent job.
This show reflects that the women’s movement is starting from the bottom again, which is good news. Threats to abortion rights, the rape culture on campuses, in the military and in society at large, as well as continued pay differentials, are all prompting an end to complacency among young women. After all, the social and economic condition of women world-wide has deteriorated after the near collapse of the advanced capitalist economies in 2007-2008.
IWD was started by American socialists in 1909, and then universalized by German Socialists on a vote proposed by Clara Zetkin to make it an annual holiday. (It is also called “International Working Women’s Day.”) IWD demonstrations and strikes against WWI and for bread in 1917 Saint Petersburg initiated the February revolution in Russia according to Kollontai and Trotsky. It became a paid holiday in the USSR in 1965. It is still national holiday in Russia, China, Vietnam & Bulgaria.
On International Women’s Day – March 8th – Gamut will be hosting a free panel discussion at their gallery called “Revolution Now – International Women’s Day,” at 3 p.m. This coincides with other events around town on IWD – a day that has been mostly invisible for years. Socialist Alternative will be holding an IWD event focusing on rape culture earlier in the week. Gamut is to be congratulated for holding a show on politics and women. Let us hope the artists they contact move to the left in the future.
March 1, 2015
To paraphrase Mao, ‘Women Hold Up More Than Half the Sky’