(© Vagina, oils on linen, by Mona Arizona; aka, MIMI WOLSKE)
Don't you think it's fantastic that if you ask most young female artists today if they feel marginalized by their gender that they are mystified? Was it only 30+ years ago, in the very late 70s, that as a female art student I, and my fellow female peers, faced deep-rooted sexism?
One woman professor, with her doctorate in art at the university, understood the problems we faced because she fought the battle for recognition herself. Fortunately for me, I was one of twelve women students chosen to be part of a select group of women artists the year she began her work-and-discussion group. We represented women artists from various areas she believed showed promise. We were painters, a sculptor, a soft sculptor, a weaver, ceramists, a film maker, a body artist, a photographer, and a jewelry designers. We were young. We were idealists. Some were radical feminists, others were not so radical. We were from middle- and upper-class families; we were white; and we were women looking for and wanting our place in the world of art.
That first year, we learned not just in the studio but on the job...for our first show as a group, we were responsible for the installation. We learned to construct walls and pedestals. We chose the music for the show's opening night, created and printed the advertising, learned how to set the lighting for the best affect on the various forms of art being presented, and planned the refreshments, the media coverage, and the documentation of our group show. We called it the First Annual Women Artists of the American Southwest Show.
Statistics? Well, I read an article about artists and art shows in California in the early years of the seventies that documented only 29 women out of 713 artists participated in group shows in Los Angeles and out of 53 one-person shows for the year of the report, there was only one female artist.
Typical of the times and of women artists around the country, we were exploring outside the bounds of predictability and the boundaries that seemed to be labeled as characteristic of feminist art. One of the photographers and I went to the dry river bed near campus and after she tightened her Hasselblad to the tripod and set the settings the way she determined they should be and rubbed Vaseline around the outer edge of the lens, she disrobed, posed in front of her camera, and I snapped off a roll of film of her, for her, for the show. My painting was of a reclining nude female whose body was one-half skeleton and who held her detached head in her hands but resting just above her genitals. Another painter did a series of three paintings on the subject of rape. There was a surreal film on being a bride.
As a group, we made a punch bowl with nude females gracing and supporting it and two nude women formed the ladle from ceramics. We wanted a nude female to serve the punch, and while it was okay for the female models for painting classes to pose nude, the males wore a jock strap, so imagine how upset we were when the school refused to allow the punch server to be nude. Well, we created nude figures from and in the finger food.
It was during this time I began calling myself Mona Arizona on my erotic (and feminist) paintings. If you know me, you know that name, too. And, if you know the name Mona Arizona, then you know me. I was an art activist from Arizona. As a double-major student, no one stopped me. I was like a lot of female activist students. I think I'm unusual / unique because I'm still me...just older and with attitude. When people first began approaching me about my writing and my painting, I thought, I've been through feminism... racism (as the mother of minority children)... religionism... all the prejudices... I'm still an activist and Ageism is going to be the last bastion.