Self in women's art : Hannah Wilke, Eleanor Antin and Cindy Sherman



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One of the most provocative themes in women's art is the frequent, often obsessive use of the artist's own image in her work. The phenomenon occurs with notable frequency in the works of women artists associated with the Surrealist movement as well as those working in a wide variety of more contemporary styles. In the late 60s and in the 70s, when the ideology of the Feminist Movement began to have a strong influence on the art community, women became artists in greater numbers than ever before. Many women were attracted to the avant-garde forms of body art, performance and video, often addressing issues of gender or gender identity. At this time obsessive self-portraiture proliferates, and the female self becomes a subject with new meaning. Although this phenomenon has attracted the notice of various critics, it has never been analyzed fully. To begin our investigation, we shall look at the careers of Hannah Wilke, Eleanor Antin and Cindy Sherman. An analysis of their use of self reveals qualities which link their work to the self-portraits of many women artists both past and present. At the same time we shall discover a pattern in the structure of their self-portraits unique to contemporary woman which positions their art at the heart of the female dilemma and, in a larger frame, of the postmodern "crisis" of representation