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Barbara Kruger Feminist Art and American Identity

Feminist art by Barbara Kruger advocates that human identity used to be predetermined.

How would Donald Trump respond to a note from a women reading, “We don’t need another hero?” (There’s one very interesting and ambiguous word in that sentence: we.) Would he see it as a message from “the people?” Or would he see it as a message from we as in just the women of the United States? From what we already know about the new president, we could assume that society would help him decide. The world in which he and his gender helped sculpt would signal his brain to pass the note off as garbage written from some angry woman. This unfair world where men are usually at the top is the subject of Feminist art by Barbara Kruger (b. 1945). More interestingly is how this world affects the way people think of and refer to themselves. In her Feminist art that addresses the mistreated it becomes clear which genders identify as so and which do not. Works by Barbara Kruger address the oppressed therefore they address women.

Barbara Kruger and Social Feminist Art

Contemporary art by Barbara Kruger only starts out as accepted and harmless images from mass media. Each Feminist art piece, though, is reworked to be an unexpected and unwelcome slap in the face. They are sharp and to the point. Both visual and textual messages leave a sting just as a punch in the face would. These works are not to be missed. The black and white images taken from magazines and other popular medias are very bold. The high contrasts of the figures, often female, draw the viewer in. The only color she uses is slapped-face red. Kruger applies brief and very curt messages in red to the works. Some phrases include, “Your comfort is my silence,” and, “We don’t need another hero.” Then they are framed in a bright red border. The bright red may add to the shock of such phrases just as being hit would. Barbara Kruger has transformed these images that culture has deemed acceptable into suspicious messages.

barbara kruger

It is reasonable to assume that Barbara Kruger is addressing the maltreated in society, but someone harder to ascertain which gender she is addressing. So who’s “silence” is the topic of this work? Who has been surrounded and suffocated by “heroes?!” The viewer becomes the missing component in these works. Barbara Kruger could very easily be addressing either men or women in these works. Therefore the viewer is, so it seems, stuck with the task of deciding who the messages are directed towards. This ambiguity actually helps one realize that these works are addressing the oppressed women, and not the men of the world regardless of the opinion of the viewer.

This is Feminist art simply because women are the oppressed, and not men! The birds and the bees that have been watching humans for ages would agree that men are in control. A simple observation of human culture can determine the intended recipient of the messages Barbara Kruger hastily hurls out. Anyone or anything around for that long can see that the world is currently dominated by the male species and that this artwork is indeed Feminist art. The meanings of these pronouns are left to each individual viewer to decipher. But, he or she is just a puppet of the greater civilization they are a part of. If a women reads, “I shop therefore I am,” and confirms that “I” refers to her it is because her environment tells her so. Country and culture have already decided who these works are referring to and it is up to the viewer or puppet to further confirm that. These works are addressing the oppressed people of this country, and this country declares that those oppressed people are women.

Conclusion

Barbara Kruger expects the viewer and partially society to choose what role they will play in her Feminist art. In the past, Barbara Kruger was a pretty good fortune teller. Women, perhaps by predetermined choice, would almost always choose the more submissive role. Kruger would use observations from the world to foretell how viewers would identify with the works. But, contemporary times are more explosive than ever. Not all women these days interpret this Feminist art in the same way. As explosions in the population become more and more far-reaching, women become more empowered and free-thinking. Despite recent political setbacks in the United States, minorities are being encouraged to think in stronger ways. Perhaps now viewers of Kruger’s works will simply scoff and say thankfully, “That’s not me.”

Read more about the Feminist art movement here: theartstory.org

Sources

Joselit, David. American Art Since 1945. Thames & Hudson, 2003.


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