8 Women Who Turned Food into Feminist Art
The erotic associations between
But in the 20th century,
With the rise of feminist art practices in the 1970s, and the production of iconic works such as
Carolee Schneemann, Meat Joy, 1964
In feminist artist
Linda Nochlin, Buy My Bananas, 1972
In 1972, the prominent feminist art historian Linda Nochlin (well-known for her 1971 article “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”) created a staged photograph, titled Buy My Bananas. The image satirized Achetez des Pommes, a 19th-century representation of a nude woman holding a tray of apples under her breasts. Nochlin replaced the woman with a naked man holding a tray of bananas below his genitals.
Buy My Bananas drew attention to the comparative lack of objectification when it came to male sexuality. Nochlin later wrote on the subject further, in Woman As Sex Object: Studies in Erotic Art, 1730-1970 (1973), explaining that despite “a rich underground feminine lore linking food—specifically bananas—with the male organ, such imagery remains firmly in the realm of private discourse, embodied in smirks and titters.”
Natalia LL, Consumer Art, 1972-5
In the post-war decades,
LL directed a group of young female models to provocatively eat a selection of sexually suggestive or phallic foods—bananas, sausages, ice cream, and jelly. Through the performance, the male body became a product for consumption. Women are depicted as active protagonists, “man-eaters,” rather than the passive objects of male spectatorship or pleasure.
Cindy Sherman, “Disasters” Series, 1986-9
In the mid-to-late 1980s, Cindy Sherman produced the “Disasters” series, picturing grotesque and disturbing scenes that explored the relationship between the female form and the expulsion of bodily matter. Although the female body is absent from the majority of the images, it’s implied through the use of symbolic material.
The tableau in Untitled #175 (1987), for example, suggests a bulimic binge, depicting food, waste, and vomit. Theorist Laura Mulvey discussed the abject imagery in Sherman’s work in terms of society’s misogynistic tendencies. Due to male idealizations of female beauty, she explained, women are forced to “identify with misogynistic revulsion” and deny their basic bodily fluids and functions, such as mucus and defecation.
Marilyn Minter, 100 Food Porn, 1989–90
Sarah Lucas, Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab, 1992
In her work in the 1990s,
Nao Bustamante and Coco Fusco, STUFF!, 1996-8
Nao Bustamante and
In the resulting performance, the audience was invited to enjoy a lavish, ancient fertility feast, participate in a dance lesson, and learn Spanish translations for the “language of love” through a series of vignettes. STUFF! examined the ways that globalization and imperialism created a market in which women of color were seen as goods rather than as autonomous consumers.
Mika Rottenberg, Cheese, 2008
In Rottenberg’s version, the sisters live together in a ramshackle barn where they make cheese, not just from the milk of the goats they keep, but also through supernatural rituals involving their hair. Screened on six projectors within a wooden structure replicating a barn, Cheese plays out various arduous scenarios of the sisters engaged in activities—washing, brushing, milking, and so on. The women’s existences, even the evocation of their magic powers, revolve around the collective labor of manufacturing one single object for consumption.
Stephanie Sarley, Fruit Art Videos, 2015-ongoing
Last year, Sarley’s “Fruit Art Videos” went viral on Instagram. The videos depicted fruit being caressed, rubbed, prodded—eventually “fingered,” earning them the name the “fingering fruit” videos—until they burst or oozed juice in submission. Sarley utilized a range of fruits as yonic symbols, including blood oranges, limes, lemons, strawberries, apricots, grapefruits, kiwis, and papaya. “The video is basically about personifying and empowering vaginas through humor and absurdity,” she commented in an interview.
Instagram disabled the account on three separate occasions due to their ban on “sexually suggestive content.” The same questionable policy has driven other accounts featuring representations of menstrual blood and pubic hair, for example, to be disabled. The furore that surrounds the “Fruit Art Videos” speaks volumes about the repression of female sexuality.