TOTD: In Praise of Feminist Art in Public Spaces

February 2, 2021 - Heather Shea

I’m writing this Thought of the Day from the vantage point of a professional feminist and an amateur art historian (I work as the director of Women*s Student Services and I “minored” in Art History as an undergraduate while also earning a B.F.A. in Graphic Design at Colorado State University). Today I’m sharing my thoughts on feminist art in public spaces, like the mural pictured above, which has been temporarily spared removal in Madrid, Spain. The mural, commissioned in 2018, portrays portraits of women throughout history alongside a slogan that reads “Your ability doesn’t depend on your gender” (reported by the BBC in this article).

Last week, the far-right political party Vox led the campaign to have the mural removed claiming that the message was too political. Citizens of Madrid signed 50K+ petitions and ultimately, the centrist and socialists parties voted to table the motion by the Vox party to remove the mural. For now, the mural is safe.

According to an article in The Guardian, the prime minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, tweeted on Friday: “The feminist struggle for equality has left an indelible mark on our history. It’s a battle we’ll keep fighting across all areas until we ensure that women can live freely and equally.”

So, why does this matter? Each person will have different opinions about “what is art” -- indeed this is the topic of much debate. I specifically appreciate this definition of art by Marilina Maraviglia in this article

“Art is … a component of culture, reflecting economic and social substrates in its design. It transmits ideas and values inherent in every culture across space and time. Its role changes through time, acquiring more of an aesthetic component here and a socio-educational function there.”

Art as political activism, promoting awareness about underrepresentation of women in history, making the point that ability shouldn’t be dependent on one’s gender--the messages promoted by the mural in Madrid--are particularly timely messages reflecting our current social reality.

Instead of hiding away these messages behind the closed doors of museums, artists have taken to creating political art in public spaces. And this art in public spaces has the opportunity to promote awareness on a different level. All those who pass by are in one way or another affected by the presence of art in public spaces.

The irony, I’d like to point out, is that the existence of this community conceived and executed mural has raised so much controversy and has received so much press in the last week is actually furthering the message/movement that the Vox party is attempting to squelch.


Read more here!