This Woman Explains Why She Used To Draw Abstract Vaginas All Day

Having your opinion silenced in the world of art is, like everywhere else, very common. It's especially damaging if you're an artist who needs a voice (and a lot of us make art solely for that reason). You know what's great about the art itself, though? It gives those who need that voice a place to shout.

(A NSFW moment appears about 45 seconds in.)

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Judy Chicago: What I wanted to do was I wanted to encourage my students to do what I was then going to try and do in my own work, which was peel away the formal prohibitions to my own content. But, of course, they didn't have them yet because they hadn't professionalized like I had. So they didn't have the same level of prohibition against their own content. And as soon as I gave them permission and a context, it was like taking the lid off of a boiling pot.

The other really thing that I remember about this, if I can find it, is the Cunt Cheerleaders. My students were very exuberant. And one time, we had a visit from the theorist, Ti-Grace Atkinson, and she came to the Fresno Airport and my students got themselves up in these costumes, these Cunt leader costumes. And they did cheers at the Fresno Airport as Ti-Grace got off the plane much to the consummation of a convention of Shriners who were descending from the same plane. And I, of course, was like, "Oh my God." I mean I'm a middle-class Jewish girl. I was trying like not to share my chagrin with my students because I did not want to inhibit them, but at the same time, it was like "Uhh." But now, it's become a historic picture, you know.

At that time, in the late '60s, early '70s, mid '70s, for a woman to openly express her own content was extremely dangerous. It was tantamount to risking one's... Well, for me, what little modest repetition I had at the time. And as it was sort of, you know, wrought in the macho environment of L.A. art of the '60s, and faced with things like attitudes like, you know, "You can't be a woman and an artist too." The idea that there was no such thing as female content, that women didn't have a different point of view. I mean none of that was accepted. It wasn't even thought about at that time.

And so what does that do? What does it do to a young woman who is raised in an environment of form, visual form, that comes out of the male experience? So I was basically alone at that time and extremely isolated, and yet, I was deeply committed to being myself as an artist. And so in these drawings, I try to face the constraints of a formal language I had inherited and figure out how I could break through it, literally break through it without sacrificing the transformation of form, you know, the beauty of form and color and line, but to find a way to be myself using it, and the drawings actually chronicle that.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

Original video by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. And please check out a clearer picture of the best cheerleaders ever on Boystown.

Sep 03, 2014

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