Performing feminism: American performance art as a feminist deconstructive strategy
Szymanek, Angelique M.
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This thesis is an examination of feminist performance art, primarily of the nineteen sixties and seventies, celebrating its revolutionary use of the body as medium, as well as the unprecedented political and social agency it asserted for women both in and outside of the art world. In their work, the artists discussed in the first chapter of this thesis often employed deconstructive strategies as a means to challenge the dominant power structure in Western society which continues to situate women as inferior Others in relation to men, a binary which is reinforced by psychoanalytic theory and its signifying systems. Within this context, the second section of this thesis aims to reveal the falsehood of a universal feminist agenda by highlighting the work of several women artists who, through a focus on race or sexuality, work to reveal the pluralities of identity often muted in early nineteen-sixties feminism. The third and final section addresses performance artists' engagement with one of the most fraught and frequently private manifestations of oppressive patriarchal systems: rape. The material in this portion of the thesis is particularly troubling, but it is the most frighteningly powerful example of how the construction of gender can and does manifest itself in violent and horrifying ways. The performances and theories presented in this thesis support the concept that feminist performance art that utilizes the body as medium does so in an effort to begin the process of revealing the falsities of Western gender constructs.