- A Life's Archive
This long and beautifully written memoir by poet and artist Sabra Moore is an essential archival record of most of the feminist art and political movements in New York City in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s of the last century. Such an amazing array of acronyms—AHC: the Ad Hoc Women Artists' Committee, WIA: Women in the Arts, WAR: Women Artists in Revolution, AWC: Art Workers' Coalition, Fifth Avenue Peace Parade, CRV: Committee of Returned Volunteers, WAC: Women's Action Coalition, Guerilla Girls, HERESIES (a collectively produced and written feminist magazine), Black Emergency Cultural Coalition, WCA: Women's Caucus for Art.
Woven into Sabra Moore's descriptions of her work with these many collaborative projects and organizations is her own story of growing up in rural Texas with a rebarbative mother and a dearly [End Page 19] loved father who did union organizing for the railroads. Many of her female relatives made quilts, and so did she, starting with making doll's clothes at a very young age and quilts for the dolls.
While she is studying at the University of Texas at Austin, John F. Kennedy is assassinated in nearby Dallas. She spends a year with the Peace Corps in Guinea, where she nearly dies of an incomplete abortion procedure, an experience which causes her later to work in a New York abortion clinic sponsored by Judson Church. She also travels alone down the coast of West Africa to Nigeria, finding art, friendship and beauty everywhere. This is where her eye for art is formed, it seems, and she makes drawings of local sculpture.
When she returns to the States, she decides to study art at the Brooklyn Museum School and shifts her field of operations to New York City and Brooklyn. She is shunted into the museum's Saturday program and becomes involved for years with her teacher, a painter who eventually threatens her life and from whom she flees with nothing but a kitten in her pocket.
Once she is safe from him, she participates in the founding and building of Atlantic Gallery, an artists' cooperative on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. There she meets Roger Mignon, also an artist who is the child of a union organizer and her helpmeet and eventual spouse.
As a member from 1979 of the HERESIES magazine collective, she spends much of her time and energy putting out the magazine with a group of feminist artists who become her friends. In the course of her memoir, she names dozens of famous and unknown women artists whose images scroll like a filmstrip at the bottom of every page of this book. The layout of the book is the author's, since she is a professional book producer and illustrator.
Her decision to incorporate the images created by many women illustrates the belief of active feminists in this era that all women must be included—in group shows, in protest actions like marching in front of MOMA to protest the non-inclusion of women in seminal shows, in magazine texts, in collections of art like Sylvia Sleigh's collection now at Rowan University.
It was not enough to be represented by Miriam Schapiro or Judy Chicago, narcissistic superstars of the movement. It was even obligatory to conceive of shows to which multiple artists could add their spontaneous efforts, in effect creating a group installation greater than the sum of its parts. An example of this is the tent show set up in a freezing cold gallery in the Lower East Side to protest the Gulf War. Artists added quilt squares to the outside of a nine foot hexagonal tent. Another example would be the protest at the new Guggenheim Soho, so short-lived, where Carl Andre's work was being shown, but not Ana Mendieta's.
The women artists tried to block such figures as Robert Rauschenberg and Leo Castelli from entering, and scattered Ana Mendieta cards over the Carl Andre piece on the floor.