Feminist Cultural Activism

Feminist cultural activism from the 1970s to the 1990s opened new spaces both physical and imaginary for women, as both cultural producers and  audiences for women’s culture.  The breadth of this activity extended across Canadian contemporary culture from visual artists and designers, to writers and poets, theatre and performance arts, musicians and musical performers, and as film and video makers, reflecting the new faces of feminism.

These emerging cultural producers used their skills, talents and their new creative energy to explore women’s lives, challenge prevailing stereotypes, and championed the fight for change. Many feminists came together in groups and collectives to produce new work, organize festivals and events, and started magazines and publishing houses. Individual women were active as feminists in larger cultural institutions driving policy change and establishing new ways of working in cultural institutions, government and academia.

Individual artists/producers explored new questions, critiques and debates about women’s role in history, society, politics and in the home, bringing new ideas and imagery to the representation of women, children and their lives as the content of their work. They demanded that women’s traditional crafts, such as quilting, sewing, embroidery, and knitting, be recognized as creative art forms. Going beyond the history of traditional high western culture, they developed deeper understandings of non-western cultural traditions and practices. New technologies and methods of representation like video and performance art produced new spaces and imagery that had not previously existed, allowing for new aesthetics and experiences, that were both critical and highly engaging.

This section of Rise Up! focuses particularly on feminist cultural production that actively engaged with the women’s movement and feminist issues. These artists/cultural producers saw their work as part of a larger movement and saw their reception by feminist audiences as an integral aspect of their work. The cultural work they focused on was not just feminist in content but was activist in its interaction and reception by feminist audiences. 

It is this interest in feminist questions and their audience reception that unites the graphic design of posters and buttons, documentary photography, films/videos, music and theatre. This activist production reflected the new feminist consciousness that produced new authentic characters, images and ideas that reflected feminist debates of the times.