Art, Politics, and Feminist Periodicals: The Case of Heresies (1977-1993)

Feminist publishing played an important role in the feminist art movement of the 1970s and into the 1980s, and Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics was a key journal in this landscape.

Beginning around 1969, American feminist artists, art historians, critics, educators, and curators worked on multiple fronts to challenge institutionalized sexism in galleries, museums, funding structures and agencies, and educational sites associated with the arts. As with other branches of second wave feminist activism, participants in the feminist art movement recognized the value of print culture. Feminist media – which included periodicals, newsletters, pamphlets, and magazines – was a key site for articulating political arguments as well as for building community. Most importantly, for women involved in early second wave feminist publishing, writing and publishing were deeply political practices. Feminist periodicals did more than simply reflect or report on the developing feminist movement, they played a central role in both expanding and shaping the movement, its preoccupations, and its complicated (and indeed often contradictory) commitments. 

The project, "Art, Politics, and Feminist Periodicals: The Case of Heresies" draws on recent work produced by scholars in the field of periodical studies in order to enrich understandings of the feminist art movement in the North American context. I’m interested, primarily, in the role that the influential but under-examined feminist periodical, Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics played in expanding, shaping, and shifting the debates within the feminist art movement. Based in New York City, Heresies was conceived by a group of feminist art workers and activists who were interested in building a community of women to explore and elaborate specific themes of broad relevance to feminist art politics. It was almost entirely volunteer run, perennially underfunded, and thus dependent on unpaid labour and enthusiasm. Despite financial struggles and political disagreements, Heresies was able to sustain its publication for fifteen years, publishing 27 issues of the magazine. Over its lifetime, hundreds of women contributed to Heresies as authors, editors, printers, and proofreaders, and thousands of women subscribed. Heresies continued through a period in American history that was marked by an increased social conservatism, transformations in New York City which made it increasingly difficult for the Collective to be self-sufficient, reduced government support for arts activities, a rapidly shifting art market, and a backlash against feminist activism. Heresies’ relatively long publishing life means that it is a valuable resource for understanding feminist response to a shifting political arena. It is also a valuable resource for understanding the relationship between feminist artists, critics and scholars, to the changing field of art.

Though the project is a case study of Heresies informed by feminist periodical and print culture studies, it is also a project that enables broader reflection on the way that scholars, artists, activists, and students narrate or make sense of the recent feminist past. Key questions driving the project include: How does the periodical’s goals and self definitions shift over time? What do these shifts reveal about the broader fields of feminism and feminist art, particularly during the 1980s? How does the periodical position itself in relationship to other periodicals? How did working on Heresies, and as part of the Heresies Collective, influence the political lives of the periodical’s editors?