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The Barbican Centre in London is staging another major exhibition, “Carolee Schneemann: Body Politics,” which celebrates the work of the American pioneer of feminist art and performance. 

© Carolee Schneemann Foundation / ARS, New York and DACS, London 2022 
Photograph Erró © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022 

With her strong activism, women’s freedom has always been her favorite subject. Carolee Schneemann (1939-2019) has never ceased to challenge the diktats of patriarchy, the objectification and erasure of women in history, the taboos surrounding the female body, and the abuse of power in world conflicts. A visual artist, performer, and director, this leading figure in American art quickly explored her own expression of sexual identity, making plastic a tool of creation and contributing to the body art movement.

© Carolee Schneemann Foundation / ARS, New York and DACS, London 2022

Committed to the expansive politics of body and mind that she considered as two indivisible entities and nourished by the legacy of abstract expressionism, her experimental work embraced the New York avant-garde scene, notably at the Judson Dance Theater, of which she was a co-founder. Meat Joy (1964) remains perhaps one of her most famous performances, conceived as a sensory and orgiastic celebration of the flesh. As well as Up to and Including Her Limits (1976), in which the artist hung naked from a harness suspended in a set, drawing on the walls in a trance-like state.

Feminist art and revolution

The exhibition traces Carolee Schneemann’s transgressive and interdisciplinary career over six decades, since the late 1950s, celebrating a radical artist who became a feminist icon and a reference for many contemporary artists. The various sections of the retrospective draw on the archives of the Carolee Schneemann Foundation. More than 300 objects are on display, including paintings, sculptural assemblages, performance photographs, and rare documents.

© Carolee Schneemann Foundation / ARS, New York and DACS, London 2022 
Photograph © Anthony McCall 
© Carolee Schneemann Foundation / ARS, New York and DACS, London 2022 

As for the artist’s later films and multimedia installations, they address the precarious nature of life and the politics of human suffering in the context of the Vietnam and Lebanon wars, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and her own struggle with breast cancer.

In 2017, she received a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for her lifetime achievement, an award marking both her major importance in art history and her role as a strong advocate for women’s right to control their bodies and sexuality. “Carolee Schneemann: Body Politics” is the Barbican Centre’s first major exhibition since the designer’s death in 2019. 

Carolee Schneemann: Body Politics – Barbican Art Gallery

Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London (England)

Until January 8, 2023

Nathalie Dassa