Fed up with the male-dominated art world, in 1972,
, cofounders of the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts, organized Womanhouse. Chicago, Schapiro, and a cabal of determined female art students overtook an abandoned house on Mariposa Street, renovating the space by hand. Every room, from the kitchen to closets to bathrooms, was transformed into an artistic environment, with diverse, in situ artworks exploring various aspects of the female experience. The large-scale, collaborative project has since become a watershed moment in feminist art history.
“The age-old female activity of homemaking was taken to fantasy proportions,” Chicago and Schapiro wrote in their statement
for the exhibition. “Womanhouse became the repository of the daydreams women have as they wash, bake, cook, sew, clean and iron their lives away.”
Schapiro’s contribution to the presentation, a collaboration with Sherry Brody, was a dollhouse: an impressive, 6.5-foot-tall structure that reiterates Womanhouse’s momentous, ambitious task on a digestible scale, yet is no less fantastical. In both cases, a house has been built from scratch by untrained women (one goal of the cooperative, Chicago and Schapiro wrote, was “to teach women to use power equipment, tools and building techniques”). And in both Womanhouse and Dollhouse, domesticity and the often confining expectations for women are on full display.
Dollhouse playfully and bitingly explored Schapiro’s shifting identities as artist, wife, and mother. Here, the kitchen is empty, and in the nursery, a monster-baby appears in the cradle. In the studio, a man—presumably the artist’s husband—models nude for an abstract painting, a miniature version of Schapiro’s hard-edge Silver Windows (1967). Reflecting the inclusive mirror Womanhouse hoped to hold up to society, Dollhouse also includes personal mementos (handkerchiefs, bits of lace) the artists had collected from women all over the United States.