Artist Research Project: Andrea Bowers
Andrea Bowers was born in 1965 in Wilmington, Ohio and currently resides in Los Angeles, California. Her art has been shown in exhibits both in America and Europe. The places where her art has been shown include states like New York, Texas, Wisconsin and California, as well as countries in Europe such as Germany, Austria, France, Spain, and England. Having been described as a political activist and feminist in the art world, her art focuses on issues such as race and gender discrimination. She also connects historical events, such as the struggle for reproductive rights, to the present political state. She is interested in nonviolent protest and civil disobedience in the lives of women and explores individual expression within society at large. Her work is done in a variety of media including visual installations, photo-realistic drawings, sculpture and performances.
Bower’s art stems from her views of politics and inequality that she sees evident in the world today. She explains her feelings by saying, “In the art world and beyond, race and gender discrimination is thriving, and this makes me sad. If this weren’t the case, more young women would not be so afraid to call themselves feminists“ (“Feminist Art Base”). She also describes that in the art world, artists are afraid of being associated with an adjective, such as black, Latino, feminist, political, gay etc., and that this is an understandable concern because those attitudes are alive, but that art that is viewed as nonpolitical or neutral is actually succumbing to a majority. She believes that “you can choose to make ‘Art’ or be one of those ‘other artists’. As far as I can tell, ‘art’ is about the interests and identities of a modernist tradition of Euroethnic men and is easily consumed by a capitalist system because its politics coincide with the agendas of those in power” (Feminist Art Base”). She therefore gets her ideas from historical struggles and activism as well as issues in the political or social spectrum today that she feels needs to be addressed. She makes her art as a form of activism, not just to aesthetically portray a subject, but to describe and vocalize an issue. Her art forces people to take notice of the issue that inspired it, the problem or subject it is trying to express. Because she is trying to portray an political or controversial idea, opinion, or issue with her art, she could be compared to Felix Gonzales-Torres, Daniel Martinez, Betsy Damon, or even Gregory Green. However, the artist whose art is most similar to hers is Nancy Spero.
Like Andrea Bowers, Nancy Spero’s art focuses on contemporary political, social, and cultural issues and she is thought of as being in part, a feminist artist. She also draws on current and historical events or issues for her art. Within the artists’ exhibitions is where the differences unfold. They use different media for their art and have different focuses or messages for their audiences. Nancy Spero largely used paper and tapestry in her art, such as her collaged paper scrolls of women and war drawings on paper. Bower uses paper in a different way, she uses it for her photorealistic drawings that include portraits of people at sporting events and political topics, like “Still Life Memorial of AIDS Quilt in Storage” and her nonviolent civil disobedience drawings. Where Spero seems to use her paper technique for much of her art, Bowers often displays her art in installation and film as well. Examples of Bower’s other use of media include “Defense of Necessity” which is a sculpture weaving that blocks one half of the installation room. The inspiration came from the first Women’s Pentagon Action, where some women wove the doors of the pentagon shut with brightly colored yarn. The weaving is part of a project that originated with a nonviolent movement that took place in the 1970s and 80s that combined feminism, spiritualism, and environmentalism. Another more famous installation of hers is called “Nothing is Neutral.” The three parts of this piece use paper, sculpture, and video to depict women’s letters that were written to three suburban women (called army of three), who from 1964 to 1973 crusaded for abortion rights. The letters from women around the nation were written to support the activism or urgently voice the need of legalized abortion and they were showcased in Bower's installation on were on walls and read aloud on video.
I think the main difference between Nancy Spero and Andrea Bower’s relationship with their audience is the degree of controversy they choose to portray. Although Bower deals with controversial topics like Spero, the artwork itself is not as controversial as Spero’s; there are no depictions of penises in Bower’s work like there are in Spero’s work ,“The Male Bomb”. Both artists want their audience to notice the importance of the issues that they depict in their work, but they do so in different ways.
Another difference between the two artists is that Bowers often brings attention to issues that took place in history, sometimes recreating the approaches used by activists, or she focuses on the topic of activism itself. Spero seems to draw especially from her personal relationship with the issues she artistically expresses. Spero’s “War Series” stemmed from her feelings about the war, and her paper scrolls of women deal with in part, her personal experience with male oppression. Bower’s work is obviously personal in the fact that her topics she works with are important to her and have impacted her, but her approach is more to broadcast the work of activists before her, to comment on activism and bring its role in history together with its place in today’s society and her own views.
With her use of history, Bowers draws from historical activism and issues for a large about of her work, taking inspiration from historical ideas and recreating events in history in her own way. Spero, on the other hand, focuses on her own personal relationship to controversy or injustice, and uses history to help her convey her ideas, such as when she used historical depictions of women in art to create her piece, “Torture of Women.” Bower’s art therefore draws more extensively from history and past events, whereas Spero art focuses on a specific idea, and then draws from history. Bower’s remembrance of activism gone by is activism in itself because she is forcing people to not forget important issues in the past and use the past to learn from for dealing with issues today, many of which are the same, such as the pro-choice controversy.
I would tell a friend that this artist is a woman artist who uses political movements and events in history, as well as her own feelings and responsibility towards issues concerning women, equality, and discrimination, to draw inspiration for her art. She is an artist who works in many different media and techniques. Some adjectives I would use to describe her work would be powerful, feminine, real, and opinionated. I also think that much of her art works are like little windows in that the art may be a small picture or display of something, but it represents an issue that is much bigger and broader. The art pieces are the jumping off point for the viewer to further research and study the controversy or event that is being artistically remade. I would recommend that my friend go to an exhibit of the artist because I think that she is not just another political artist; she portrays the issues she cares about with a different use of media in a unique way. Her art is explicit in a way that the viewer understands that it is a form of activism, but it is ambiguous enough to provoke questions and possibly inspire the viewer to look deeper.
Butler, Connie, Leclere, Mary, and Joo,Eungie. Nothing is Neutral: Andrea Bowers. Valencia, California: California Institute of Arts and REDCAT. 2006
“Feminist Art Base: Andrea Bowers.” Brooklyn Museum. (19 Apr. 2009) http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base/gallery/andrea_bowers.php
Interview with Nancy Spero: http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/spero/clip2.html
REDCAT website: http://redcat.org/gallery/0506/bowers.php
United States Artists Website:
* I could not get pictures to come up on here
Pictures of Andrea Bower's art can be found at: