For a counterexample, one might look to Kara Walker’s black-and-white silhouettes, which regularly depict slave owners violating their charges. Both bodies of work are powerful; the divergence of Walker’s and Holzer’s aesthetic strategies evidences the growing plurality of voices and perspectives addressing rape. These complications may ultimately be a good thing. While feminism fractures, a growing number of women are able to enter the conversation.
“Until the last quarter of the twentieth century, the artists and writers who represented sexual violence were almost entirely men. And it was men whom they addressed,” Princenthal writes. She notes that these men’s work entirely elided the victims’ experiences. Over the past 50 years, daring, creative women have changed that.
The #MeToo movement has similarly helped women find language for their experiences, though Princenthal is careful to note its limitations. The hashtag hardly helps elucidate what “sexual violence” actually means, and entirely omits the fact that women living in poor, minority communities are the most vulnerable—not white women on college campuses, who are the most vocal about such issues. For artists, these gray areas aren’t problems, but invitations to address an endlessly complicated subject with unique, individual points of view.
One of the most recent artworks Princenthal includes in her book is Naima Ramos-Chapman’s short film And Nothing Happened (2016), which follows a young woman struggling to explain her assault and its emotional repercussions. The video exemplifies one of the greatest challenges, and most important issues, still facing women artists who want to address sexual violence in their work. “It’s still about finding language,” Princenthal said. That’s the point.