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Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper by Mary Beth Edelson

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Some Living American Women Artists/ Last Supper by Mary Beth Edelson.

About the Work

Title: Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper
Artist : Mary Beth Edelson
Year : 1972
Medium : Cut-and-pasted gelatin silver prints with crayon and transfer type on printed paper with typewriting on cut-and-taped paper
Dimensions :  28 1/4 x 43″ (71.8 x 109.2 cm)
Location : The Smithsonian American Art Museum

Mary-Beth-Edelson_Some-lIving-American-Women-Artists-1972_Artwork-in-Focus_Divvya-Nirula
Some Living American Women Artists/ Last Supper, 1972 by Mary Beth Edelson
image courtesy : www.frieze.com

Representing Women in Art

Mary Beth Edelson can easily be credited for being the founder of the Feminist Art movement during the 60s and its propagation. A firm believer in the effectiveness of the tongue-in-cheek approach, she created Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper, making history of sorts. With Da Vinci’s iconic Last Supper mural as the base for her collage, Edelson affixed the heads of prominent female artists in place of the original’s apostles. She chose a picture of Georgia O’Keeffe to cover Christ.

The artwork was a powerful statement that challenged the centuries old accepted ‘men-only’ club for painting. And by choosing the painting that bore the presence of Mary Magdalane, which confronted the subordination of women, common in society and religion. As can be imagined, it rose to the status of an epic image, synonymous with Feminist Art. It was a reaffirmation of the movement’s objective to showcase the negation of women’s absence from historical documentation.

“Humor is a mode of speech that is indirect and ambiguous and, therefore, can have multiple interpretations. It can potentially disrupt dominant meanings and the social order while protecting the joker from consequences that might occur if the same message were delivered in a serious mode. Humor sabotages critics, for unlike spoken language, laughter does not belong to a linguistic code and, therefore, has the possibility of creatively breaking that mold while taking advantage of humor’s natural attraction.”

Mary Beth Edelson

Other Details

Apart from the central figure of Da Vinci’s ‘Jesus’, Edelson collaged over the faces of the disciples with those of her friends, counting artists Alma Thomas, Yoko Ono, Lee Krasner, Faith Ringgold, Agnes Martin, and Alice Neel. The placement of the other women are random. And it must be shared that showing her solidarity, she chose not to have any of her peers portray the role of Judas.

Talking about the painting, the artist said “(it had )…the double pleasure of presenting the names and faces of many women artists, who were seldom seen in 1972 . . . while spoofing the male exclusivity of the patriarchy”. Which was her primary concern as a front runner of the movement.


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

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