Mary Beth Edelson (b. 1933, Indiana, d. 20 April 2021) was a celebrated American artist, activist, and pioneer of the first-generation Feminist art movement. For the past 50 years she created iconic artworks – ranging from photography, painting, sculpture and drawing to performance, book/print making, collages and murals – often using her own body as canvas and subject matter.
Patriarchal Piss: Swing in the Wind, (1973) is from Mary Beth Edelson’s iconic Woman Rising photography series. In this series, Edelson took nude self-portraits while performing private spiritual rituals in remote and rugged landscapes; from forests in Maine to the dunes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, all the way to the volcanic landscape of Iceland. Edelson would then paint and draw on the surface of the photography imagery of goddess archetypes, talismans, fantastical creatures, and spiritual symbols.
As Adam Weinberg, the Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, wrote in his essay Vanishing Presence on Mary Beth Edelson’s photography, “Her photographs in particular are rigorously conceived. Each photographic sequence is choreographed in advance, using a calligraphic, step-by-step, personal notation system of pictographs, sketches, and writings. Usually photographing in the early morning or late after- noon so that the lens can be left open for longer exposures, she sets the camera in a pre-selected location and makes exposures according to the predetermined conception. Sometimes the results fulfill her expectations; however, what interests her is not whether the images suit the original conception but rather the possibilities implied by the results themselves.”
Text by Mary Howard, May 2022.
Mary Beth Edelson was a leading figure in the feminist art movement of the 1970s and was known for herperformance rituals in which she used her body to channel ancient goddesses. A lifelong advocate for feminist causes, she helped expand women-run organizations—including the cooperative A.I..R Gallery in New York—and organized protests against the lack of women artists in museum collections and exhibitions. Her practice highlighted the power and achievements of women past and present, from primordial female deities to her peers and idols. In her famous photo collage Some Living American Women Artists (1972), she replaced the faces of Christ and the apostles in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper (1495) with those of influential female artists including Yoko Ono, Georgia O’Keefe, Alma Thomas and Louise Bourgeois and pasted the photos of 69 other female artists around the work’s border. Distributed as a poster, the piece served as a criticism of misogyny in the art world. She was also active in the civil rights movement and was a respected art tutor, teaching at Park School in Indianapolis, and after 1968, at the School of Art in Washington, D.C.