Reflecting on the works in this exhibition, one may wonder if the situation for feminist artists working now isn’t, in many ways, far more complicated. Many of the things women were fighting for in the 1970s—equal pay, the right to be safe, to have access to free sexual health care, to abortion—are sadly still far from resolved. There are additional enemies today, too, which are less visible and more insidious, such as censorship and social media algorithms. Since they’re hard to identify, it’s difficult to defeat them. Contemporary feminist art is often critiqued for being anodyne, media-friendly and fashionable. But in the images on show here, we see guns and knives. Nowadays, it’s more glitter and iPhones. Yet looking at the avant-garde feminists of the ’70s, it’s clear that their strategies wouldn’t work now—as artists like Moiré, Soda, and Marzella have proved. On or offline, you can’t use your body to protest in any way you’d like.
By exploring the past, “Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s” encourages us to examine the present. The radicalism of the avant-garde feminists was vital in their day, and it has resonated beyond their time. But as the timing of this show suggests, these pictures cannot be looked at as a sealed-off archive, or completed works that need not be built upon. Things have been done before, but they still need to be done now.