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How To Be A Revolutionary Feminist Artist, While Hardly Noticing

originally posted on: Huffington Post by Priscilla Frank
October 21, 2014


Barbara Nessim
’s work may seem playful and even innocuous, but in fact, that’s what makes her endless combinations of colors and lines so dangerous.

Since the 1960s Nessim has been at the front lines of both illustration and feminism, crafting androgynous superstars who straddle the line between art and ad, masculine and feminine. Never one to be particularly bothered with boundaries or conventions, Nessim preferred working to categorizing, filling a lifetime up with artwork as technologically innovative as it was politically (and aesthetically) bold. Nessim created images for mainstream publications like Rolling Stone, Time and New York Magazine, filling their covers and pages with gender-bending heroines that were, like their maker, far ahead of their time.

Most artists instinctively respond to the times they live in,” Nessim explained in an interview with The Huffington Post last year. “I was not aware, in the early days, that I drew a preponderance of women. A man I knew pointed this out to me. I was stunned. I looked around at all my work hanging in my one room studio apartment and I had to agree. I’ll always remember that moment.”

Nessim’s lifetime of work is currently on view in a retrospective titled “Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life,” now showing at the Bard Graduate Center. The show features 50 years of images that, to contemporary eyes, appear both stylish and subversive, a testament to and rebellion against the “Mad Men” era from whence they came. Nessim’s 1963 work, “Superman Carrying Girl with Green Shoes,” features a heteronormative depiction of a male superhero holding a woman’s nude form in his grip — yet both figures’ heads are chopped off, leaving a surreal aftertaste to the conventional (and sexist) trope. Her 1971 “Fire Engine Heel” transforms a women’s garment into a Paul Klee-style weapon, complete with fiery flames and floating geometric shapes.

Read the story at Huffington Post

Photo: Barbara Nessim. Beware of the Blue Sky Syndrome, 1967. Pen and ink, watercolor, collage. Courtesy of the artist.

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