Savannah Whaley (KCL) - 2017-18 Students

Feminist Irritants’: The gendered body in performance and protest

This project presents feminist theory with a new concept: the ‘feminist irritant’. It reconsiders performers and groups from the 20th and 21st centuries that respond to gendered trauma or oppression using bodies as artistic and political media, framing them as feminist irritants. I have coined the term to describe a figure who consciously disturbs the social codes and gender norms of their era, using their body as a tool for expression and disruption. I question how a body is differently defined within the contexts of performance and protest, and suggest that the gendered body as a site of conflict and struggle has the greatest potential to provoke response. Within this frame, I will historicise the female body in art and performance, from Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven in the 1910s and 1920s, through examples including Ana Mendieta, Suzanne Lacy’s ‘Three Weeks in May’, and the work of Carolee Schneemann, to some of today’s irritants: Pussy Riot, Sisters Uncut, and Emma Sulkowicz’s ‘Carry That Weight’.

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