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Miriam Schapiro

Feminist Art Pioneer

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Born: 1923, in Toronto
Known for: groundbreaking feminist artist

Miriam Schapiro is a groundbreaking artist known for pioneering the 1970s Feminist Art Movement in the United States. Her provocative works include paintings, drawings, collage and other pieces that reexamine women’s roles and “traditional” women’s arts and crafts.

Background

Miriam Schapiro was born in 1923 in Toronto. She moved to Brooklyn as a child and studied at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) while in high school in New York City. She attended the State University of Iowa in the 1940s, receiving her B.A., M.A., and M.F.A. She married fellow artist Paul Brach, and they moved to New York City, where their son was born in 1955.

Miriam Schapiro began exhibiting her art during the 1950s. Although she and Paul Brach were part of the New York artists’ community, art was often seen as only a hobby for women artists. They later lived in California, teaching at the University of California San Diego and the California Institute for the Arts (CalArts). At Cal Arts, Miriam Schapiro co-founded the Feminist Art Program with Judy Chicago.

Feminist Feminine Art

Miriam Schapiro co-directed the CalArts Womanhouse project with Judy Chicago from 1971-72. Feminist Art Program students used an abandoned Los Angeles house to exhibit room-by-room art installations and performance art pieces that explored women’s lives.

Together with Sherry Brody, Miriam Schapiro created a dollhouse for the Womanhouse project. The dollhouse exhibit featured rooms such as the nursery and kitchen, but with a provocative twist on the traditional women’s roles in these rooms. Miriam Schapiro also used the image of a house in later paintings to comment on the house as a place commonly associated with women.

Miriam Schapiro famously rediscovered traditionally feminine women’s art by using pieces of embroidery, threads, knitting, scraps, sequins, buttons, and other material from crafts and decorative arts. She combined these in collage projects to create what she called “Femmage.” She emphasized the need for art to address the feminine experience. She also insisted that society should revise the value placed on women’s creations by furthering their use in new and innovative art projects.

Self-Exploratory  Works

Miriam Schapiro’s “Shrine” series of paintings from the 1960s used symbols to explore questions of self. Each “Shrine” painting depicted compartments representing different compartments of the woman artist’s self. For example, each painting showed a mirror for self-reflection and an egg for the woman/creator figure.

Miriam Schapiro worked on a series of “collaborations” in which she explored her relation to other female artists. She used images from the works of women such as Frida Kahlo or Mary Cassatt. In an updated piece, which she called a collaboration, Miriam Schapiro surrounded the old image with images from her own life.

Miriam Schapiro was originally known as an Abstract Expressionist, but she has moved through various techniques and innovative materials in her artwork. She was one of the earliest artists to work with computers, in addition to collage, geometric abstractions, figure drawing, and various other styles. She has continued to champion the artwork historically made by women as she incorporates  past handiwork and bold new feminist viewpoints into her art.

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