CHECK FOR: Check references – check for plagirism Check – books and artwork etc. in italics + article names in ” Spell check, grammar check, check tenses, sentence structure – Grammarly and proof read! Is there a dash in first/second-wave feminism? yes Check use of women and woman. Any Americanisms? Capital letters: first/ second wave feminism? — First-wave Feminism Radical feminist art? Radical Feminist art/ movement Feminist art? capital: Feminist art Capital – Modernism or Modernist Chicago’s experience with the misinterpretation of ideas surrounding her previous work, The Dinner Party, notably concerning the ‘central core imagery, resulted in her desire to ‘reaffirm her goals as a Feminist artist’ (Debiaso, 2012). This lead to Chicago’s next artistic endeavour, the Birth Project. The fundamental purposes of this project can be recognised in the following statement by Chicago, ‘What I have been after from the beginning is a redefinition of the role of the artist, a reexamination of the relation of art and community, and a broadening of the definitions of who controls art and, in fact, an enlarged dialogue about art, with new and more diverse participants.’ (Jones, 1996) The Birth Project expanded on Chicago’s commitment to feminist ideals, striving to communicate with a broad audience through relatable artwork that explored ‘hidden aspects of the female experience’ (Lucie Smith, 2000). Commencing in 1980, the project grew from Chicago’s fascination with the female experience of birth and creation; an interest that emerged during the production of The Dinner Party’s table runners. The imagery on the runner of 18th century Feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft describes her miserable death from ‘childbed fever’ (Chicago, 1996). Having no children of her own, and therefore, having never experienced childbirth, Chicago found the image both distressing and fascinating. Chicago began researching the subject of birth soon after the completion of The Dinner Party, hoping to use ‘the birth process as a metaphor for the creation of life’ (Chicago, 1982). Chicago quickly became aware of the distinct lack of images depicting the experience of giving birth throughout Western Art history, despite it being ‘a universal experience, central to most women’s lives’ (Chicago, 1982). However, as Clements (2009) notes, any imagery that is inclusive of pregnancy, motherhood or birth, almost always omits the actual moment of birth, instead depicting sanitized scenes where the experience of the woman is secondary to that of the man, or is part of ‘a larger story celebrating someone important’ (Clements, 2009). The lack of imagery surrounding the universal experience of birth from a woman’s perspective stresses the domination of the male view throughout art history, where open exploration of the male experience has been readily accepted. Chicago (1996) suggests that ‘if men had babies, there would be thousands of images of the crowning.’ This shortage of imagery resulted in childbirth becoming a taboo subject, shrouded in secrecy, and preventing women from being able to relate to, share or see the birthing experience from any perspective other than their own (Chicago, 1996). This is another example of women’s experience being disregarded within Western history, leading Chicago to challenge this exclusion through the creation of artwork. This absence of imagery led Chicago to rely on the first-hand experience of women who had any experience with childbirth while researching the project; learning from photographs and stories (Chicago, 1996). Chicago also witnessed a friend giving birth naturally, noting that she was, ‘particularly struck by the strength of the vulva as it expanded and contracted in childbirth; its power was overwhelming, having little to do with sex (although it is always referred to as a sex organ) and everything to do with a life force. I thought that if everyone were brought up with a familiarity with the birthing vulva, it would be difficult for anyone to imagine the female gender as passive.’ (Chicago, 1996) Chicago was profoundly affected by witnessing the incredible physical strength of the female body while in labour; a power that has been overlooked throughout history where women have been depicted predominately in an idealistic way, for the voyeuristic purposes of men. Sackler (2002) comments that within the work of ‘the great masters’ there is a tendency for ‘the portrayal of youngish, vulnerably displayed women for the voyeuristic pleasure of the viewer’ and offers the example of Ruben’s The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (fig.2.2. 1618). This work exemplifies the contrasting depiction of the man in power and the woman as a passive object of sexual desire (Sackler, 2000). Chicago strove to create images that would challenge the representation of women as passive and instead portray them as ‘independent thinkers and self-empowered entities’ (Villeneuve, 2015). Chicago put the depiction of women back into their own hands, involving 150 female volunteers in the production of the Birth Project. The women created images that reflected an authentic female perspective on the subject of creation and childbirth. The artwork was created through various methods of needlework, with the volunteers working predominantly from their homes across America. After the popularity of The Dinner Party, Chicago did not struggle in her search for assistance, with vast numbers of women contacting her and offering help. Again, Chicago used collaboration as a method for the empowerment of women; by including them in the production of her work, the volunteers took part in the building of an art history inclusive of women and their experiences. This was a highly significant way in which Chicago challenged the male-dominated art world, both past and present. Chicago produced the initial designs for the artwork before sending them to the volunteers who materialised the drawings through their needlework and embroidery skills. Chicago’s choice to work with these ‘low art’ forms was predominately due to their aesthetic impact; the ability to soften the often-graphic depictions of birth that Chicago conceived (Chicago, 1996). Chicago, however, was still entirely aware of the significance of working with needlework and embroidery and the challenge that it posed to the traditional male-dominated hierarchy which denied the importance of women-associated mediums, instead limiting them to the domestic and decorative. Chicago strove for woman-associated crafts, such as needlework, to be recognised as worthy mediums for the creation of significant artwork. Chicago aimed to empower the women working within such mediums through validation of their work and skills, usually disregarded as ”hobbyist’ craft’ (Lucie-Smith, 2000), as important works of art. In this endeavour, Chicago’s attempts to challenge the oppressive nature of the Western art world and its hierarchal attitude to women and women-associated skills can be seen. Numerous needlework techniques were used in the creation of the Birth Project, varying from the most commonly used to the most unfamiliar. Birth Tear/ Tear (fig. 2.1., 1984) was created with a technique named macramé; usually used to create decorative items, such as wall hangings or plant holders. Despite the usually delicate nature of such a ‘humble craft’ associated with women and decoration (Lucie-Smith, 2000), this artwork is highly powerful in its depiction of the strength of the vulva during labour, far from anything normally produced with this medium. Lucie-Smith (2000) notes that Chicago’s continuous refusal to distinguish between mediums deemed as ‘high’ or ‘low’ by the art world (Lucie-Smith, 2000), is exemplified in the use of techniques such as macramé. The Birth Project features strong visual imagery that is clear and figurative in its representation of subject matter. The vast number of volunteer’s working on the project resulted in imagery that is reflective of the personal experiences of each needleworker through the ‘unabashed venting of subjective emotion’ (Lucie-Smith, 2000). Chicago realised the importance of ‘breaking through the coded language forms of contemporary art’ which commanded the elitism of the art world through the neutral and minimalist subject matter of Modernism. Chicago challenged this exclusivity by providing clear imagery that could be easily interpreted by the public, and particularly by women, who could share in the experience of childbirth from perspectives other than their own. The depictions ranged from the ‘the painful’ to ‘the joyous’ and empowering (Sackler, 2002). Birth Tear (fig. 2.2., 1982), a graphic image of a large female in the heights of labour, describes the all-consuming pain of giving birth, as well as the unmissable strength of the vulva. The use of embroidery on red silk also adds to the intensity and power of the image. Chicago comments, ‘To behold the vulva in labour as a woman is giving birth is to be confronted with sheer female power.’ (Sackler, 2002) The power of the female body is unmissable in Birth Tear which highly contrasts to the typical portrayal of the woman as a passive object of sexual desire throughout art history. The woman in the piece is completely revealed and in a state of intense pain, yet she ‘cannot be dominated’ (Sackler, 2002). Through this work, as well as other works in the Birth Project that focus on the intensity and pain of giving birth, Chicago creates a whole new image of the female nude; that of which is transformed ‘from object to subject’ (Sackler, 2002) and from passive to active. This portrayal challenges the traditional depiction of women throughout history and gives the female viewer an authentic image to which they may relate. Chicago also utilised imagery representing more empowering experiences of birth, while exploring her interest in the ‘mythological, and spiritual… aspects of the birthing female’ (Sackler, 2002). A work that exemplifies this exploration is The Creation (fig. 1. 1984). This work developed from a tale Chicago rewrote while working on The Dinner Party based on the story of Genesis in which the creation of the universe is described as an entirely male undertaking. Chicago offered an alternative version of the story in which woman is the creator of life and the universe, ‘an idea that not only seemed closer to the truth but also celebrated women’ (Chicago, 1996). The Creation is a vibrant needlework tapestry representative of a female figure who extends across the canvas giving birth to the universe and ‘metaphorically to everything physical, intellectual and spiritual’ (Sackler, 2002). Through The Creation, Chicago challenges the widely accepted assumption within Western religion that the creator of the universe is male, as well as again challenging the traditional depiction of women through the creation of compelling and empowered female imagery. After the completion of the Birth Project in 1985, it was displayed at over 100 venues across America, receiving more than 250,00 viewers until 1987 when the work was either gifted or put on a long-term loan to various institutions. The Birth Project has been displayed in a multitude of different locations, ranging from public spaces, such as libraries and women’s centres, to highly esteemed art institutions. From the outset, Chicago intended to display the work in a ‘decentralised’ manner, resulting in the Birth Project reaching a smaller audience, as well as receiving less media attention than her previous work, The Dinner Party. However, Chicago was more concerned with the democratisation of the artwork, stating that the distributed system of exhibition was, ‘consistent with my goal of introducing art into the life of the community in a way that allows people to have images they can relate to’ (Chicago, 1982). By displaying the work in a multitude of places, Chicago reached audiences throughout America, rather than limiting the work to one location at a time. This also resulted in Chicago being able to decide on particular places in which the work would be most valued, such as areas where women would come into contact with the work, therefore being able to share in the experience of creation and birth through relatable imagery. Chicago received large amounts of praise in regards to the impact; a notable reaction is that of a female viewer who stated, ‘I felt my whole consciousness shift a frame’ (Anon. 1983). The Birth Project has since been exhibited by the institutions in which the works were gifted or put on loan. Wydler (2013) states that various university museums have seen the work being used by students, as well as indicating that the work is still on display in multiple other spaces such as a planned parenthood organisation in Denver. The impact of Chicago’s work, the Birth Project was highly significant in regards to feminist ideals of democratising art. Despite reaching less extensive audiences than The Dinner Party, the artwork succeeded in reaching suitable public audiences, empowering women through the use of representational and explicit female imagery, allowing them to share in their experience of creation and childbirth from perspectives other than their own. Chicago challenged the lack of imagery in Western art history that reflected the female experience and reduced women to passive objects of male desire, through the creation of compelling female imagery, celebrating the power of the female body and its ability to create life. Chicago also succeeded in her decision to work collaboratively, empowering the needleworkers by providing their usually dismissed skills with an opportunity to be recognised as valuable works of art and allowing them to be part of an art history inclusive of female achievement. The women involved also gained attention within their communities due to their participation in the project, creating conversation around the taboo subject of childbirth and the authentic experience of women (Chicago, 1982).