Art Expansion: Joan Braderman on 'The Heretics'

October 28, 2009


AWARD-WINNING VIDEO artist and writer Joan Braderman chronicles the feminist influence in art and life in her latest film, “The Heretics,” an insider’s look into the New York artists’ collective that produced “Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics” in the mid-1970s. Beginning with Braderman’s transition from aspiring filmmaker to collective co-founder, the film tracks the group’s response to the transformative social changes brought about by the civil rights movement and second-wave feminism.

A Washington, D.C., native, Braderman is currently a professor of media arts at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. She will appear Friday at American University‘s Katzen Arts Center to show and discuss the film.

» EXPRESS: Is “The Heretics” purely autobiographical?
» BRADERMAN: No. I use the narrative format as a kind of framing device because I think it’s easier to get into a movie when you have somebody to identify with. It’s really about the second wave and one of its greatest successes: the impact on the way art is made today.

» EXPRESS: How did second-wave feminism change the way art is made?
» BRADERMAN: Women, through sheer number and force, began finding the strength and the capacity to express their views of life — and their very unique experiences of life that the second wave brought about — which forced the art world to become much more multilayered. It also allowed many more forms of art to eventually become accepted; things like performance art and installation, which have lots of voices instead of a single voice like that of a great painter or a great sculptor.

At that time, the Western art world had become dominated by these kind of isms and paradigms of what was good art and what wasn’t — much of which was not very in touch with what people understood or cared about. And when women started making art in large numbers, they were expressing experiences that just couldn’t get summed up in a color field painting or a big pile of rocks or one brick, like conceptual art or minimalism.

» EXPRESS: So, women weren’t necessarily injecting a feminist viewpoint into the art world, just engaging that world more?
» BRADERMAN: Yeah. Lots of women were demanding the right to be heard and becoming each other’s living audiences. The whole field got reactivated. It took a large body of women to awaken new possibilities in art and demand the space to show that art in.

» EXPRESS: Why did you want to make “The Heretics”?
» BRADERMAN: I wanted to show a large group of women who were funny and sexy and smart … and excited about their work. Plus, I want people to come away with a different idea of what a feminist was rather than what has been taught the next generation by the dominant media, which pictures us as having been these strident, hairy, doggy girls.

In my experience, the second wave was filled with as many kinds of women as there are women. That was also the moment for collectives — and one profoundly shaped by the bravery and path-breaking efforts of African-Americans and civil rights workers. When they had the courage to say that they counted, it seemed like maybe we counted, too.

» EXPRESS: What do you make of post-’80s third-wave feminism, which is more individualistic?
» BRADERMAN: Feminism is a movement that comes back in cycles every couple of generations. … I see it as a continuing process; a long story of women fighting for equality. I’ve been teaching for 31 years now and when the riot grrrls came along, I was delighted to see them, I must say.

Every period has its own voice; different kinds of women standing up for themselves. Whether dancing or at the barricades, I’m for it!

» Katzen Arts Center at American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW; Fri., Oct. 30, 8 p.m., free; 202-885-1675. (Tenleytown)

Written by Express contributor Johnathan Rickman
Photo courtesy No More Nice Girls Films

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