Nancy Spero (1926-2009) passed away on Sunday, October 18. Spero, along with Jenny Holzer, Fiona Banner, Roni Horne, Sophie Calle, Louise Bourgeois, Ellen Gallagher, Ida Appelbaum and Kiki Smith, is one of the female artists I feel privileged to have had as a role model.
Spero’s art has depicted women in many forms, but always from the basis of the political, and with the necessity to move the female figure away from the entrenched “male gaze” – creating a woman’s art, from and for a woman’s vision. Her work spoke strongly against the pervasive abuse of power, Western privilege, and male dominance. Her imagery and subject matter were inspired by current and historical events such as the torture of women in Nicaragua, the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust, and the atrocities of the Vietnam War.
Despite the nature of her subject matter, Spero’s artistic vision has often given these same women forms which embrace incredible freedom and are celebratory in their expansiveness. Nancy Spero has said, “Even when the work is celebratory, I still hope it has subversion to it, in that all the protagonists are women. That it is we who are the activators. That is not the usual way of the world but it’s symbolic of the way the world could be.”
Nancy Spero.“Explicit Explanation" relief print and screenprint 17.00 x 22.00 Inches. © 1998
"I guess maybe my art can be said to be a protest. I see things a certain way, and as an artist I’m privileged in that arena to protest or say publicly what I’m thinking about. Maybe the strongest work I’ve done is because it was done with indignation. Considering myself as a feminist, I don’t want my work to be a reaction to what male art might be or what art with a capital A would be. I just want it to be art. In a convoluted way, I am protesting- protesting the usual way art is looked at, being shoved into a period or category." Nancy Spero