Capilano University screens a feminist art documentary
// Claire McGillivray

“Do women have to be naked to get into the Metropolitan Museum of Art?” This was the slogan for a campaign started in 1985 by a feminist art collective called the Guerrilla Girls. Their action was in response to an art exhibit that marked the reopening of the Museum of Modern Art, which featured recent and international art, but only 13 of the 169 artists were women.

The Guerilla Girls are now profiled in a recent documentary where the ratio is a lot higher. Hannah Wilke, Judy Chicago, Yoko Ono, Cindy Sherman, and Barbara Kruger are among a number of influential female artists who are showcased in !Women Art Revolution, a feminist art documentary directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson, a multidisciplinary artist herself.

In partnership with Vancouver’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival, Capilano University presented a screening of !Women Art Revolution on Jan. 24. The film, colloquially referred to as !WAR highlights the place of feminism and social activism in art over the last four decades.

Hershman agrees that her film represents a vital story that needs to be heard. She says that it details “a political movement [that] commented on the injustices of society and sought to shirt power structures in a way that reflected social justice and civil rights.”

The film focuses on how feminist artistic integrity can play a vital role in this shift towards social justice. Before the project, Hershman emphasizes, “there really was no history in existence about this movement.” Described by the New York Times as "passionate, contentious, funny, sincere, [and] politically attuned,” the film itself represents a leap forward in the women’s art movement.

Based on Hershman’s extensive body of work, a lot of connections can be made between artistic expression and social commentary. Her art has touched on themes of consumerism, privacy, and the comparison between reality and virtual reality. Her inspirations drew on traditional theatrical performance and innovative installation art. Due to the highly experimental nature of her work, it was not always easy finding an audience.

This film is no different: “Independent films and those especially about social issues have a tough time reaching a large public,” says Hershman. There have been many difficulties and challenges that she and her team have had to overcome in all of her projects.

Most specifically, this relates to distribution. Fortunately for Hershman, the film “had a great distributor that helped the work be seen on a larger scale.” !WAR premiered internationally as an official selection at such prestigious festivals as the Toronto International, Sundance, Panorama Berlin International, San Francisco International, and the Human Rights Watch Film Festivals.

Hershman describes the experience of having the film selected by MoMA as one of the three best documentaries of the year as “a thrill.”

“[I was] surprised by the positive reception to the film,” she says. The positive reception, both publicly and professionally does justice to the message, and the story that is being told. “All of these things help people know about the movement and the issues.”

The Capilano Film Series, in partnership with the DOXA film festival, included a pre-screening question and answer period. Featuring a highly knowledgeable panel, the roster included local filmmaker, performer, and writer Amber Dawn and Capilano University faculty members Toni Latour and Sandra Seekins, professors of Studio Art and Art History, respectively.

Immediately preceding Capilano University’s film screening of !WAR was a presentation of Riva, a short documentary created by Capilano Documentary film student Shurman Esseline. His film tells the story of a dear friend of his, the passionate and vibrant Riva Fisher.

//Claire McGillivray, writer

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