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New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century

By Nicole Mui Dec. 8, 2021

Rating: (5/5) Pros: in-depth historical background, innovative perspectives. Cons: needs more emphasis on trans womxn.

Feminism—a word expressing fluidity, survival, pride and revolution is rampant in New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century. On display from Aug. 28 to Jan. 30 in the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, hundreds of creators break down the stigma of femininity by utilizing diverse paintings, film, sculptures and photography.

As viewers stroll in, pictures along the walls describe historical studies of womxn persistently spun into a negative image. For example, Jean-Martin Charcot, a French psychiatrist who directed inhumane treatment for thousands of interned womxn, described them as hysterical. In an attempt to document this false diagnosis, photographer Paul Regnard snapped images of womxn lying amongst beds in curved positions and published his documentation at the Pitie-Salpetriere University Hospital. Thus, the idea of hysteria was born, rupturing the rationality and sexuality of womxn into a “female disease.”

However, many creators challenged this stereotype by representing female activism. In Andrea Bowers’s drawings, protesters hold up signs for AIDS representation, trans feminist activism and Latinx cultures to reveal the power and contribution of womxn to these movements. Laura Aguilar’s print titled “Grounded #111” celebrates her indigenous heritage as her nude silhouette poses in fetal positions beside landscapes of boulders and dry brush. Additionally, Kiki Smith’s sculpture “Lilith” depicts a crouched womxn with her feet planted on the wall, adorning stone grey skin and ocean-blue eyes. Lilith represents the wife of Adam in Jewish folklore, demonized from terror and infidelity, which Smith uses to symbolize feminist survival.

Creators also pursue the importance of constructive anger against domestic stereotypes: Koak’s oil painting titled “Breaking the Prairie” combines European and Japanese comical styles to draw a tanned, curved figure smashing an ax into a chair, subverting ideals of indigenous and patriarchal roles.

From the striking visuals to thought-provoking messages, the gallery’s collaboration of artists spurred an introspective take on femininity. Before visiting this museum, my perceived notions on feminism were bi-directional, concerned with the stigma that surrounds the discussion of female empowerment. But after viewing the differences between each piece—whether it was a collection of photographs or intricate oil painting—I realized that these forms of art are completely diverse. Each piece discards rules and conformity, instead embracing gender fluidity and encouraging viewers to reshape their perspective.


About the Contributor

Nicole Mui

Staff Writer

Nicole Mui is a sophomore at Leland High School and writer for The Charger Account. During their free time, she enjoys reading, painting, and debating.

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