The F Word: Sexuality, Embodiment and Empowerment in 4th Wave Feminist Art

In 2009, Jessica Valenti heralded the dawn of 4th wave feminism with a supposition: “Maybe the 4th wave is online” the Feministing founder mused. Nearly seven years later, a new incarnation of the century old movement is far less questionable — and yet not entirely uncontested. Navigating this liminal space between 3rd and 4th wave feminism and between IRL and URL is a cadre of Brooklyn-based artists captured in Robert Adanto’s new documentary, The F Word. Not satisfied with denying their gender identity or playing by the patriarchal rules, these creatrixes raise questions about self-representation, sexuality and embodiment. Their work offers glimpses of unbridled female power and sexual agency, and yet is not fully rooted in fantasy, often contending with the brutal realities of the male-dominated (art) world. They are undoubtedly part of a long lineage of feminist artists, and yet are not merely aping the radicals that have come before.

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Adanto’s film opens in silence with a close up of artist Leah Schrager‘s hot pink nails manipulating her camera, setting the stage for auto documentation. She poses effortlessly, staring ahead — hair in her face, lips parted. Soon, a quote by Carolee Schneemann settles onscreen, foreshadowing the following hour and a half: “I wanted my actual body to be combined with the work as an integral material — a further dimension of the construction…I am both image maker and image. The body may remain erotic, sexual, desired, desiring, but it is well votive: marked, written over in a text of stroke and gesture discovered by my creative female will.”

Within the first few minutes of The F Word, Adanto situates his young subjects in an art historical context by referencing Schneeman and Hannah Wilke, who defied the separation between artist and subject by incorporating their bodies into their practices. In the 1960s and 70s, it was groundbreaking for female artists to blur these lines — and it remains so to this day. Like Schneemann and Wilke, the artists Adanto introduces us to have faced accusations of narcissism and questions regarding the validity of their work because of its form and content. Schrager, known for The Naked Therapist project amongst others (see our full interview with her) counters, “Just because something elicits arousal…does absolutely not make it not art.”

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Whether it’s Michelle Charles tackling hip hop misogyny by embodying its sexist tropes, Kate Durbin elevating the selfie to an art form, Go! Push Pops protesting military rape as a performance piece, or Narcissister taking on each role in Little Red Riding Hood to channel the wolf within and subvert feminine ideals, every artist in the documentary grounds her practice in her own body. These women are able transform the tensions between sex, gender, race, porn, objectification, sexuality and feminism into work that is at turns uncomfortable, ugly, awkward, thrilling and vindicating — but never boring to watch.

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Along with a dynamic cast of artists, Adanto also includes commentary by scholars and professors alike (full disclosure, I am one of them), to add background and to contextualize the works and concepts he explores. By using technology and digital spaces in uncharted ways, the artists in The F Word decenter the divide between artist and muse, self and other, watcher and watched. To put a twist on John Berger’s famous line, these women both act and appear. They are independent agents, in control of their representation in ways largely unavailable to everyday women, and at times, are able to create a world — if only a digital one — that is far more open to transgressive possibilities than our own.

The F Word Official Trailer from Deborah Jones on Vimeo.

The F Word premieres Saturday, November 14 at 9:15pm at Cinema Paradiso-Fort Lauderdale. A second screening is scheduled for Sunday, November 15 at 5:45pm at Cinema Paradiso- Hollywood.

Photo Credits: Main image, Leah Schrager; Narcissister; Kate Durbin; Michelle Charles

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