marlene mountain
january 1987


art as activism

I was given Women's Art. In August of 1977 I saw Lucy Lippard's FROM THE CENTER and the first issues of 'Heresies' and 'Chrysalis.' Just a few sentences and a couple of images took the top of my head off. Instantly I became aware of a new strange world and at the same time knew I was home.

Where had I been all my life??? Oh, groan, gulp, and cuss--I had been in male art. I had been caught up in it as I began painting in 1959 and continuing for ten years (including a couple of painting degrees). But dissatisfaction set in and I quit. For a while I kept up with what was going on in NYC, but things were beginning to happen that I didn't really understand or want to understand. Political-sounding stuff. Forget it, I said, believing in 'pure art' and its inherent brainwash. And by then I was writing haiku with its emphasis on non-committal.

But that August night, after only an inkling of what women were doing, I was stirred by deep feelings, and my first 'woman's art' came about:


It took another year and a half to get back to painting and then, inspired by this visual haiku, images began pouring out. But what was most exciting was discovering women's ancient spiritual and physical symbols. As I began to find them I was moved to paint them and by doing so felt even more the empowering qualities our ancient Sisters must have felt.

As more and more fragments of our past are recovered, we come to understand them not as fragments but as our universal wholeness. In effect, we can pick up where 'we' left off--eons ago--by reestablishing our shapes and symbols and concepts, and we can continue the thread of our spirituality by creating new ones. And on another level (or is it?), one can not get more political than painting, writing, singing and talking about Goddess.

Women's Art/Art As Activism. For me now that's all one word. Woman as Protest. Woman as Spiritual. Woman as Physical. Woman as Autonomous. Woman as Herself, by the very fact of living in a patriarchal world, is Political. And along with that, as She says this and does that, She is an Activist.

Not everyone can march. Very few can make a dent toward solving even one of the world's problems. And the process of rewriting history to undo the lies, and to include the truth of women's experiences and contributions is overwhelming just to ponder. We however can make art--even better, we can reclaim art.

But it is not art in itself that interests me. I doubt that after ten years of not painting I would have returned to it just to make art.

In fact, in most of my paintings and writings I try to leave out as much 'art' as I think I can get by with. I don't want it to interfere with content, which I believe is what makes women's art. Our experiences--intimate or universal, our spiritual prototypes and quests, our reactions to a competitive, war-hungry and violent world, our reflections on peace and nature or what is left of peace and nature. Our new Visions.

There is perhaps an even deeper reason for women's art--the healing that happens from letting it all come out. The channeling of rage. The searching for reality. The finding of our woman's voice which has been ignored, suppressed, and/or denigrated for 5000 years. Whether our voice reaches only one other person, a 1000, or the 5 billion on our planet, we have returned the sacred gift of women's art first begun by Ancient Women. It is a gift even if we as individuals have found only our own voice within our own selves. Yet, how is it possible to keep quiet.

A few haiku (yes, my haiku changed too) to share:

hot night pushy for women our rights our rites our riots 2

we are more than one half of the world 3

women have plenty to paint 4

there is always a woman to reach 5

new moon renewing with her 6

i'm glad your voice isn't calm 7

1 'labium' created in Elite type and spacing, August 1977. Cicada 2:1 1978 Canada;
Impulse Magazine 16:1 Canada
2 Brussels Sprout 7:1 1989 America
3, 5, 6 Cards from a series of 40, called 'equal, hell art' 1982.
4, 7 First appeared in 'Innerview' (a self-interview about my changing content) in Haiku Society of America's Frogpond 4:3 & 4:4 1981.

Woman of Power #6 Spring 1987; The Beltane Paper's Octava 1:7 Harvest/Samhain 1987; Raw Nervz Haiku 3:1 1996 Canada


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