“The unseeable parts of the female body are, in art, matter out of place,” writes Lauren Elkin in her new book Art Monsters. For centuries, the artistic canon has been largely defined by male voices, leaving a glaring gap in the recognition and celebration of women, trans and non-binary artists. Though artists such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol are household names, artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Sonia Boyce and Ana Mendieta are far less commonly known. Historian and critic Griselda Pollock describes the male-dominated canon as “mythic,” observing that women often fall under the category of “sensational, commodifiable or token.” This is exemplified through the treatment of artists such as Frida Kahlo or Georgia O’Keeffe – artists who are treated to encompass the entirety of women’s art and creative practice – often without regard for the contexts and collectives they were operating in.
In 2019, the Global Art Market Report showed that out of 3,050 galleries, only 10% represented women, whilst only 8% represented more women than men. The following list of books draw our attention to underrepresented communities, providing a particular focus on gender diversity and collaborative action. From Amy Tobin articulating the 1970s women’s liberation movement to Malu Halasa’s photobook that unites the 2022 political protests in Iran, the following titles are incredibly significant. They broaden creative discourse and showcase the remarkable talents of photographers, sculptors, performers and educators. These titles delve into the lives, stories, and achievements of artists from all walks of life.
Art Monsters, Lauren Elkin | Chatto & Windus
For decades, feminist artists have confronted the problem of expressing what it’s like to occupy their bodies. Queer, sick, racialised and female bodies – each have a different language. What are the materials we need to transcribe it? Elkin explores the ways in which artists have taken up this challenge in a book that focuses on the relationship between art and the body. It calls to attention a heritage of feminist work that not only reacts against patriarchal forms, but redefines its own aesthetic aims. From Vanessa Bells’ portraits to Ana Mendieta’s silhouettes and Eva Hesse’s sculptures, the book draws a common thread between physicality, touch and sentiment. Crucially, it bridges the divide between personal and political.
Women Artists Together, Amy Tobin | Yale University Press
Women Artists Together is a thought-provoking study of how the women’s liberation movement galvanized a generation of artists. It offers a fresh perspective on the movement’s history and considers how it was shaped by collective action. It focuses on names such as Candace Hill-Montgomery, Howardena Pindell and Judy Chicago, as well as collectives such as Feminist Art Programme at Cal Arts, Women’s Workshop of the Artists’ Union and Black Women Artists Inc. Tobin retraces 1970s liberation politics, emphasising how art emerged from, as well as contested, feminist contexts. In this text, the possibilities of group work, “solidarity, community, collaboration, accessibility, democracy” are found as “foundational for the decade.”
Woman Life Freedom, Malu Halasa | Saqi Books
Jina Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of Iran’s Morality Police on 16 September 2022 sparked widespread protests across the country. Women defiantly took to the streets, uncovering their hair, burning headscarves as they chanted: “Woman Life Freedom.” The phrase is the title of a striking collection that captures the historic moment in artwork and first-person accounts. Malu Halasa’s book goes behind the scenes at forbidden fashion shows and records the sound of dissent where it is illegal for women to sing unaccompanied in public. It shows the power of art and body politics, demonstrating the significance of collective action. Moreover, it celebrates a generation of women the regime has failed to silence.
Seeing People, Dorothea Lange | Yale University Press
Documentary photographer Dorothea Lange aimed to make pictures that were, in her words, “important and useful.” The artist’s images show the common humanity of marginalised individuals. Compassion guided her early portraits of Indigenous communities in Arizona and New Mexico from the 1920s and 1930s, in addition to depictions of striking workers, migrant farmers, rural African Americans, Japanese Americans in internment camps, and the people she met whilst traveling in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. In this monograph, Lange’s photographs are examined and revealed to be touchstones on identity, as well as social and racial inequalities — topics that remain as relevant for our times as they were for hers.
Tuck and Roll, J Houston | GOST Books
Between 2016 and 2021 across western Pennsylvania, Michigan, and upstate New York, photographer J Houston documented trans communities across different regions. The resulting book takes the title Tuck and Roll – a gender presentation tactic used by transfemme and non-binary people, drag performers, and others within the queer community. The phrase also refers to the technique of diving and rolling into a ball and continuing on, employed to avoid harm whilst continuing forward movement. Here, Houston’s subjects envision a utopic community. Subjects lie on grass lawns dressed in bright yellow jumpsuits, appearing alongside mundane objects such as yoga balls and stacked chairs. They gesture to a world rooted in peace.
1. Rebecca Horn, Berlin Exercises Film. Touching the walls with both hands simultaneously,1974. Photo by Helmut Wietz. © 2023 Rebecca Horn / DACS, London / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany.
2. Mary Beth Edelson and Ana Mendieta’s ‘come dressed as your favourite artist’ dinner party, 1979. Courtesy of The Estate of Mary Beth Edelson.
3. Mehri Rahimzadeh, Tourist in front of an earth wall, in the historic city of Yazd, central Iran.
4. Dorothea Lange, Nettie Featherston, Wife of a Migratory Laborer with Three Children, near Childress, Texas, from The American Country Woman, June 1938, gelatin silver print, National Gallery of Art, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
5. Dorothea Lange, Edison, Kern County, California. Young migratory mother, originally from Texas. On the day before the photograph was made, she and her husband traveled 35 miles each way to pick peas. They worked 5 hours each and together earned $2.25. They have two young children. . . Live in auto camp, April 11, 1940, printed 1950s, gelatin silver print, National Gallery of Art, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
6. J Houston ©, Justice in yellow.