Questions by Kellyann Byrne. Answers by Charles Moffat.
As a male artist what are your views on feminism in the 70s compared to that of now?
That is basically asking me to compare feminism to postfeminism. Artistically I'd say feminism in the 70s was more interested in interpreting women as nature and making earth mother comparisons. Judy Chicago's Dinner Table for example was obsessed with fertility goddesses, Christian saints and historical figures. Right now I'd say women are more willing to show aspects of their own sexuality in their art and talk about issues like rape, sexual abuse, and if you go to central America they're also making works about femicide. So to some extent feminist art has gone from depicting mythology/history and is now more interested in life changing events from the world around us.
You once stated that you did not agree with the separatist feminist strategies which had no place for pro-feminist men. Do you think there is still an exclusion of male sympathizers in the art world?
Absolutely. The words male feminist still sounds like an oxymoron and that isn't going to change for a very long time. For myself I don't deal solely in feminist art, I deal with controversial issues that bother me and I even paint nudes occasionally. That doesn't make me a hypocrite, it makes me honest about my own sexual preferences. Male artists who deal with feminist topics have to be very careful where they tread and they need to know the theory and terminology about what they are discussing in their art, and since most men know nothing or very little about such theory/terms it is very difficult for them to create art pieces that stand on their own with little or no explanation.
Do you feel that male artists who wish to express feminist views can now do so in contemporary art compared to the art of the 70s?
Yes, but they have to be careful about it and stick to things they know about. For myself I started out with works dealing with mythology and advertising, and as my knowledge of different subjects grew (as the result of plenty of research) I became more confident painting topics I had previously known very little about.
How would you describe your artwork in terms of how it supports feminism?
It varies. My work has evolved quite a bit. If we take a work like "Pacifism" with the two male Siamese fighting fish (beta fish) it is more about alpha male posturing and war, and viewers would have to know what beta fish are to get the full meaning of the painting. Male beta fish make their fins go erect when they fight each other but the two in the painting are limp, which is contrasted with the torso with the limp penis camouflaged in the background. So the piece ends up being a metaphor for the male psyche, male aggression and arms races. So indirectly its commenting on male leadership when it comes to war scenarios.
In contrast if we take a painting like "Bald Girl Shaving" the painting is about an anorexic female who has become so obsessed with self-image she is even shaving off all her hair (although I did leave her eyebrows). My other paintings of bald women (Salmacis in the Rain, Bald Grrl and Above the City) use baldness in a positive light as parts of their identity, and with regards to hair in general there is also Hairy Armpits #1 and #2 which treat hair as being both sexual and natural. In Bald Girl Shaving I bring together both the baldness and armpit ideas to tell a narrative about the obsessive nature of self-image.
My most recent finished work is "Atalanta with the Head of Orpheus", right before she is about to toss his head into the sea.
The weird thing about Atalanta is that after she gets married there is no more stories about her (asides from the one where she accidentally kills her father). She lived this wild and free life, and then when she married the myth suggests that she suddenly settles down and becomes domestic. It does raise a question for feminists: What comes after marriage? Can they balance children and a career or do they want to choose one over the other. What happened to Atalanta after she married? Did she continue hunting boars and raised her kids at the same time? Alas, that is a topic for a 2nd painting... I'm planning a series of them.
How would you pin-point the term feminism in contemporary society? Through my research of feminist theory I have found that in the past the term has always been defined in as a movement or a subtype of that movement. I am more inclined to think that the term has lost its meaning now, because "feminism" has such a stigma to it associated with females only.
No, I can't. I can say what it means to me, that people are people and should be treated equally in all respects. But the stigma attached to it these days is such that the younger generation is now using terms like "grrl power" to represent the same thing (without the negative connotations of "female supremacy" that conservative people claim feminism represents).
Would you agree that feminism has the ability to include both genders and should be about personal experience, communication and activism rather than a distinct focus on genders?
There are basically two types of people in the world: Those who are socially active and want to create a better society for everyone, and those who want to stick their head in the sand and avoid all contact with political/societal change except for that 1 day every four years when they have to vote (and a percentage of them don't even vote).
When a woman says she isn't a feminist, but says she still believes in equality what she is really saying is that she isn't an activist. She really does believe in feminism, but doesn't want the responsibility of being socially active to make the changes that are needed.
We've all heard stories about women who claim they were never feminists until some event in their lives forces them to make a choice and take a stand to fight for women's rights. Men, in contrast, are almost never in the position to take a stand for women's rights, unless they are fortunate enough to be made a supreme court judge or something similar.
So while the core of feminism may be political and social activism, the outer shell is really people who every day make millions of tiny decisions. A husband who gets home before his wife and decides to make supper makes that little decision to go into the kitchen and do a domestic chore to feed his family. Their children see this, and unconsciously know that men can succeed in domestic chores and have a role to play in domestic life, and that these roles can be reversed. So while the core activists are fighting for big societal changes, it is the outer shell that makes broad social changes by changing not laws but how their children think.
Women will always be the core of feminism, but there is a huge role to be played by men and women making tiny decisions that result in them teaching their children by example.