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Artist in Focus : Mary Beth Edelson

In this section for Art From Us, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at Mary Beth Edelson.

Art From Us & Divvya Nirula introduce you to artists and their art. Underlining significant works, discovering creative practices. And giving you a glimpse into their studio.

Early Life

Born as Mary Beth Johnson in East Chicago, Indiana in 1933, the young girl from Indiana was going to have a promising future as an artist and activist. Her parents supported and encouraged her interests and activism. As a teenager she started the “peace cell” which was a group that supported
those who had suffered trauma through war. Art followed soon after when she enrolled for classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her pursuit of art continued till she earned her degree in fine arts from New York University. Her journey to pioneering one of the most pivotal movements in art history was underway and a gradual one.

Feminist Art Movement

It was during the latter part of the 50s that Edelson got involved in the civil rights movement and feminist movement. Which was a logical off shoot of the Suffragette movement. Initially, as an artist she was inspired by the works of Cezanne, Manet and Matisse. In 1968, she presented her first feminist speech at the Herron Art Museum, Indiana and went onto protest against the ‘all-male biennial’. It was not a conscious decision to not include female artists – but it ‘just so’ happened, like the bias she experienced at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, where she taught.

All these events and triggers were building up towards Edelson’s cause. As a result she established the Conference for Women in the Visual Arts in Washington, D.C, the first in the country. She collaborated with other artists and worked in the field of performance arts, creating large scale collages as well as sculptures.

Right up to 1994 when she headed Women’s Action Coalition, she championed the cause for under-representation of artists, the representation of the feminine form and spirituality and for the inclusion of female artists in exhibitions.

Legacy

Edelson has a large body of work to her credit, in terms of the path that she has paved for generations of women artist whom can be grateful to her. She has made it possible for a millions voices to be heard and represented. Her works – ‘Some Living American Women Artists / Last Supper’(1972), ‘Story Gathering Boxes’(1972) and ‘Kali Bobbitt’(1994) were amongst some of her most legendary pieces. Her works are showcased in several noteworthy museums like the Guggenheim, the National Museum of America, The Tate Modern, Corcoran Gallery and the Seattle Art Museum to name a few.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the Artist in Focus archive.

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