Studying Feminist Art History in New York City
By LILY DIXON
MARQUETTE — Zoë Buckman was wearing a blue page boy cap along with a red and green top and a dozen necklaces. She somehow made it all work, and she absolutely rocked it. I had seen her nontraditional artwork online, but I never imagined I would meet her or tour her Brooklyn studio. I had the opportunity to do just that as part of a three-week class, Art History of the Exploited Feminist Self, taught by Sarah Hoover at Barnard College in the summer of 2022.
Zoë was personable and passionate about her art and the message she wants others to learn through her pieces. We learned about her childhood, growing up in London, what sparks inspiration for her art, and how her career took off with of all things – a hand-painted jean jacket. She let us explore her studio (which doubled as her house) and see works in progress that the public has yet to see. The studio seemed straight out of a voguish film scene: incense burning in seashells, plants stacked high and low, and an LED neon sign illuminating “LET HER RAVE.” Hanging from the ceiling were a dozen of her hand-embroidered boxing gloves. Every wall was covered in Zoë’s art, while heaps and heaps of thrifted fabric scraps were in bins for upcoming projects. I even got to ask her personal questions, such as, “How did you know art was your path?” (A question I go back and forth on for myself.) As our class left, she gave each of us a hug. It truly was magical. I exited her studio feeling so inspired and ready to take on the world!
Our instructor Sarah Hoover had arranged for the tour of Zoë’s studio. Ms. Hoover is an art historian, writer, and cultural critic, and I was lucky enough to call her my teacher for 3 weeks while at Barnard. Four days a week my class and I would spend 2-4 hours diving deep into the world of art. We explored how the trauma-informed personal story can be utilized for art making, fame building, accumulation of resources, and healing, and how this can be both beneficial and compromised.
For example, we learned about Artemisia Gentileschi, considered one of the best 17th Century painters. Her painting instructor assaulted her at a young age. She attempted to find justice but unfortunately, the legal system at that time only added to her trauma. Yet, Gentileschi persisted through all the abuse, survived, and after the trial, she started to paint scenes of courageous women. Gentileschi was one of the first female artists to stand up for women’s rights and she helped pave the way for future feminists and their art.
After the morning presentations, we would go and see the art pieces in real life, visiting the MoMA, the MET, the Brooklyn Museum, and other art installations. At MoMA, I was delighted to see original works by feminist artists Frida Kahlo and Cindy Sherman, along with other classics by Monet and Picasso. We also went to a pop-up show of artwork by Barbara Kruger, whose art prompts us to question what we see in the media and how it shapes our identity. Kruger’s pieces are created by splicing already-made photos with text to resemble advertisements and always use simply red, white, and black. Her art is intended to make us think “Who gets to make history?” and “Who gets to decide what images define our culture?”
My mother took Art History in high school and college, and all my life she told me it was her favorite and most memorable class. As an artist myself, I found the curriculum so interesting with a perspective that complemented the skills and projects I’ve learned in my high school art classes at MSHS with Mr. Fether. My class at Barnard focused predominantly on the idea, “How do artists harness their trauma to create art for the world?” We learned about trauma, mental health, the history of feminism, and how women artists were treated differently than male artists. The ideas, readings, and artwork challenged me to expand my thinking.
This experience was made possible for me by the Joyce Ivy Foundation, my parents, and my own work to earn money for tuition. My mother and I drove for two days to get to New York City, she dropped me off and drove the thousand miles back to Marquette. She did not get to see the Barnard campus because it was closed to non-students due to Covid-19 restrictions. It took a lot of courage for her to leave me in New York City. Three weeks later she did the drive all over again to pick me up, and we stopped along the way for another college tour in Ohio. As I think about feminism, I appreciate the support and encouragement of my mother, as well as the people who formed the Joyce Ivy Foundation to encourage young women from the Midwest to participate in a challenging and uplifting pre-college experience. I hope to inspire others to seek out these opportunities and I will share the experiences of other local Joyce Ivy Summer Scholars in the next column!
Lily Dixon is a senior at Marquette Senior High School. You can find her playing stand-up bass in the symphony orchestra or the electric bass in jazz band. She aspires to have a career in environmental or social justice law.