Unruly Bodies in Feminist Art
by Lauren Elkin
A transformative feminist intervention in the way we think about women’s stories and bodies.
Coming across the term “art monster” in Jenny Offill’s 2014 novel Dept. of Speculation, Lauren Elkin was intrigued. What kinds of connections might there be between art and monstrosity, and how was it different when the artist in question was a woman?
Art Monsters is a landmark feminist intervention in the way we think about women’s stories and bodies, calling attention to a radical genealogy of feminist art that not only reacts against patriarchy but redefines its own aesthetic aims. Exploring a rich lineage of visual artists, thinkers, and writers, Elkin examines the ways feminists have confronted the problem of how to tell the truth of their experiences as bodies. Queer bodies, sick bodies, raced bodies, female bodies: What are the languages of the body, and what are the materials we need to transcribe them? Above all, how can we use the notion of the feminist “art monster” to shape how we live our lives?
Writing in the tradition of Susan Sontag and Maggie Nelson, Elkin demonstrates her power as a cultural critic in this erudite and engaging book. From Kara Walker’s silhouettes to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s trilingual masterpiece Dictee, Art Monsters daringly weaves links between disparate artists and writers, and shows that their work offers a potent defense of beauty and excess, sentiment and touch, ambiguity and opacity.