Friday, February 13, 2009

Q&A: Judy Chicago in National Post

Time is strange right now, as I'm at an art fair in Madrid. So I'm late posting this interview of Judy Chicago from yesterday's National Post. Click here or read on after the jump for the goods.

Also on a slightly feminist note: my review of Peepshow #5 in NOW, also out yesterday.

Chicago in Toronto
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Thursday, February 12, 2009

This weekend, Valentine's Day will heat up the hearts and loins of many. As fun and frothy as romance can be, it's also compatible, for some, with rigorous critiques of gender roles. At least, that's what iconic feminist artist -- and ardent V-day fan-- Judy Chicago has shown through her 40-year career. Now, with three exhibitions opening in Toronto this week, the artist talks to Leah Sandals about embroidery, dinner parties and ruling the world.

Q This week at the Textile Museum, you're debuting a new artwork called What if Women Ruled the World. How did that develop?

A That grew out of a recent project in China. I was invited to work in an isolated region hosting one of the only matriarchal societies in the world. And I invited Chinese women artists to think with me about women ruling the world. We did exhibitions and performances, and I did interviews and banners asking related questions. When I came back to the United States I chose two of the six banners to be woven by Audrey Cowan, my longtime textiles collaborator.

Q How does that particular woman-led culture operate?

A Well, they don't have marriage, or they only have it when national government requires it. Key to their tradition is "the visit," where certain rooms are set aside for conjugual relations. If a woman finds a partner not satisfactory, she leaves the door of the room closed the following night --perhaps with some small item of clothing or footwear, emphasis on the "small."

It was also interesting to me that the Chinese artists I worked with weren't able to imagine a world in which male dominance wasn't prevalent. In terms of my own goals for a more egalitarian world, I believe if there were more women in power we would see a reordering of priorities.

Q Yet in one of your recent pieces on Mary, Queen of Scots, you write, "all humans [women included] are capable of cruelty and inhumanity." How do you resolve that with your belief that more women in power would generate a better world?

A What I've come to understand is we all have the capacity for cruel or inhumane treatment, but we all have a choice. Research has shown that when women make money they spend on family and when men make money they spend on themselves. I think it says something about women, whether it's biological or cultural.

Q The Textile Museum is also showing some younger feminist artists alongside you. What do you think of the new generation?

A Through the Flower --my nonprofit, 30-year-old feminist art organization--did a juried show recently for feminist artists under 40.

On the one hand, it was great. There was some wonderful work and a lot of younger women have more freedom to express themselves than when I was young.

On the other hand, young women are still being raised without a sense of their history as women. As a result, we're about to launch a Kthrough-12 curriculum for the Dinner Party [my major feminist work from the 1970s]. This is meant to help bridge that knowledge gap.

Q Some of your most innovative art, like Fragments from the Delta of Venus, has presented female sexuality as vibrant and active. These images came to mind last month while I was reading a feature in The New York Times Magazine suggesting that women get off on passivity. What's your take?

A Well, I thought one of the most interesting things in that article was in the conclusion --namely, that the researchers had come to observe that because of society's view that female sexuality is dangerous, it's almost impossible to know what unfettered female sexuality is like. Whereas male sexuality has not been viewed that way very often, so men have a more direct relationship to their sex drive.

Q On a related, and more romantic, note, Valentine's Day is coming up. You've been married to your husband for several years, and the heart symbol recurs often in your artworks. What does "feminist" romance mean to you?

A Well, I think it would have to do with a partnership that is egalitarian, where the partners are free to be themselves as individuals rather than who they are based on gender.

And, personally speaking, I usually don't spend Valentine's Day in Toronto! But I've packed away some cards for my husband that he hasn't seen in my suitcase. We're pretty romantic that way.

Judy Chicago's artworks open this week at three Toronto venues: the Textile Museum, Rouge Contemporary and O'Connor Gallery. For more information and

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