Gender and Performativity

Feminist artists questioned the restricted gender and societal roles assigned to women in a variety of ways.  Declaring “the personal is political,” feminist artists critiqued the objectification of women through the agency of performance art, often using their own bodies but also incorporating narrative strategies, autobiography, and role reversal. 

Martha Wilson’s practice, for example, includes photo-text works and conceptual performance art in which gender-based roles and identities are explored, as she dresses in and assumes the identities of stereotypical feminine archetypes and also takes on male personas.  Eleanor Antin adopted the performance persona of the Russian ballerina Eleanora Antinova, while Lorraine O’Grady created the disruptive Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, an angry black beauty queen.

Martha Wilson

These are the models society holds out to me: Goddess, Housewife, Working Girl, Professional, Earth Mother, Lesbian. At one time or another, I have tried them all on for size, and none has fit. All that's left to do is be an artist and point the finger at my own predicament. The artist operates out of the vacuum left when all other values are rejected.  —Martha Wilson (text accompanying A Portfolio of Models, 1974–2008)



Image credit: Martha Wilson. American, born 1947. Goddess from a A Portfolio of Models, 1974, printed 2008. Gelatin silver prints and typewritten text on paper. Purchased with the Dorothy C. Miller, class of 1925, Fund.