HANNE MUGAAS Your artist statement reads “Of course, my work is FEMINIST!!! My work is an extension of self. Critique the men; critique their work. Being OUTRAGEOUS/OUTSCALE. New York style. I want what the men want.” Where are we at today when it comes to these issues?
JUDITH BERNSTEIN My art addresses the psychological amalgamation of warfare, sexual aggression and feminism. I’ve committed over five decades to build a provocative yet nuanced body of work. And the fact that my work is embraced now highlights the ongoing need to confront gender inequality on the global level. Women are still struggling for equal opportunity, and the awareness of that resonates with the audience.
My new “Birth of the Universe” series explores current issues that women and men face. The oil and fluorescent paintings portray a literal dialogue between the cunt and phallus. Playful and vibrant colors accentuate the dynamic between the genders. I’m looking at the inherent rage of women. Scientific advancement and the expanding universe are analogous for ever-changing complexities of gender in the digital age. It takes the Big Bang to represent that kind of energy. There’s vitality and resilience connected to survival—and sex and birth on the most primal level. I use a lot of outrageous humor in my work, which ultimately allows for both catharsis and fun!
HM Could you say something about the early years at Yale in the ’60s, and your fascination with graffiti that you found in men’s restrooms—as well as the fact that Yale had an all-male undergraduate program, and refused to hire any female professors?
JB As a graduate student at Yale in the ’60s, I was surrounded by extreme gender inequality that threatened women’s access to the system. The school didn’t see the value in employing female professors. Studying in that patriarchal environment planted the seeds for my obsession with feminism and political injustice. My art grew evermore confrontational and my voice screamed to be heard.
While at Yale, I became fascinated with scatological graffiti after reading an article in The New York Times (1963) about Edward Albee taking the title Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf directly from bathroom graffiti. Graffiti has psychological depth because when someone releases on the toilet, they also release from the subconscious. The graffiti I found was raw and poignant. I began to incorporate text like “this may not be heaven but Peter hangs out here” combined with crude images.