Body as Subject

Four Contemporary Women Artists
  • Whitney Chadwick


The terms “woman,” “artist,” “French,” and “feminist” are less often combined in the history of contemporary art in France than in recent Anglo-American writing on the topic. The reasons for this, however, may be more usefully linked to specific cultural readings and representations of difference than to the dramatic conclusions suggested by performance artist Orlan. While it is true that the period of remarkable literary cultural production by French women initiated by the events of May 1968 has no clear parallel in the visual arts, the practices of internationally recognized women artists, when examined closely, reveal a strong engagement with theories of difference, intersubjectivity and the body that have been widely circulated through the writings of Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray and others. Although engaged with issues of representation rather than critical theorizing, attention to the sexed, gendered, and socially coded body to artifacts of the body and to issues of female subjectivity in the work of artists from Niki de Saint Phalle and Orlan to Annette Messager and Sophie Calle recall Irigaray’s observation that “Women’s exploitation is based upon sexual difference; its solution will come only through sexual difference.”2 Irigaray’s locating of difference within difference also calls attention to other kinds of difference: to the difference that may exist between the production of the work and its critical reception; to difference mapped across relationships between artist and viewer; to the problematics of reordering gender and sexual difference through the body.


Cosmetic Surgery American Artist Surrealist Movement Female Beauty Woman Artist 
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    Orlan, quoted in Beauty Matters, ed. Peg Zeglin Brand (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 289–313; the quote is on 301.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Roger Célestin, Eliane DalMolin, Isabelle de Courtivron 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Whitney Chadwick

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