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Feminism and Climate Justice in the Art World

It’s important for us to keep in mind that feminism is inherently connected to environment and sustainability issues; we try to involve climate feminism in the way we understand, appreciate, and spotlight artwork.

The environmental movement of the 1970s and the sexual revolution rejected scientific and social models based on domination, preferring an approach which emphasises interconnection. Both environmentalism and feminism called for a radical reordering of human priorities, combining to form ecofeminism, a movement which paired the liberation of women with ecological restoration. The worries of the 70s are unfortunately still present; the impacts of climate change affect women more than they do men. Women constitute 80% of those displaced by climate change. With migration expected to increase due to the climate crisis, women are vulnerable to exploitation. To be effective activists for both women and the environment, it’s crucial to recognise the intrinsic link between feminism and climate justice. In the art world, the voices and perspectives of women artists, especially from the Global South, should be centred.

Environmentalism and feminism have inspired artists from the 70s to this day. These artists work to radically reform systems which perpetuate inequality. Their feminism recognises the interconnections of society and nature, and their artwork makes these connections more visible.

Cuban performance artist Ana Mendieta is most known for her “earth-body” artwork. She often focused on a spiritual and physical connection with the Earth, and felt that she could become whole by uniting her body with the earth: "I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body. This obsessive act of reasserting my ties with the earth is really the reactivation of primeval beliefs... an omnipresent female force, the after image of being encompassing within the womb, is a manifestation of my thirst for being." During her lifetime, Mendieta produced over 200 works of art using earth as a sculptural medium.

Creek (1974). Mendieta merges with the water, and the image evokes Ophelia from Shakespeare's Hamlet

Mendieta's performances also focused on gender based violence. Untitled (Rape Scene) recreated the rape of a nursing student at her university, emphasising the societal conditions by which the female body is colonised and ravaged under masculine aggression. Mendieta's presence demanded the recognition of a female subject, giving an identity to the rape victim and forcing audiences to acknowledge their responsibility. Mendieta said "I think all my work has been like that – a personal response to a situation ... I can’t see being theoretical about an issue like that." She died in 1985, falling 33 floors from her apartment building after a violent argument with her husband. Her husband was found not guilty of murder, but the case remains highly controversial. This tragedy shows how criticising a social issue does not make one immune to its consequences; much of Mendieta's art was a form of activism against gender-based violence and discrimination against women, yet her voice, both as an ecofeminist artist and as a woman, was marginalised.

Art activist Aviva Rahmani’s projects The Blued Trees and The Blued Trees Symphony (2015- present) have garnered worldwide attention and support. The casein paint Rahmani uses on trees and stones is entirely eco-friendly, made with buttermilk and ultramarine blue pigment designed to grow mosses, and her work has been installed and copyrighted in the path of natural gas pipelines to protect forests across miles of North America. Her own words perfectly describe the mission and impact of these projects: “In the midst of ecocide, art can divine hope out of a chaotic world. My task as an artist is to understand that and design another world.” Her art takes concrete action to form a better planet and society.

Aviva Rahmani pictured with The Blued Trees

The work of artists like Ana Mendieta illustrate both female power and human links to nature, while Aviva Rahmani’s The Blued Trees is a perfect example of art and activism coming together. The feminist movement combined with the climate justice movement, from the 70s to the modern day, inspire activism in art as well as a worldview which values the interconnectedness of humanity and the natural world.

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