A history of digital art through a feminist lens



My new book, Little by little dismantling the patriarchy: art, feminism and digital technology connects the feminist art movement to digital art. What does the feminist art movement have to do with digital art? Feminism is not just about what are called “women’s issues”. It’s intersectional because women are involved in all areas of our society.

To understand the current climate of digital art and NFTs, it is helpful to examine the history of digital art through the prism of the role of women artists and feminist theory. The rise of NFT raises questions that were originally questioned by feminist theory which posed questions such as: Who makes art? Are we now living in a virtual world rather than a world away from the keyboard? Does the digital world exhibit more or less equity and inclusion?

We don’t think of contemporary art as technological, but if we do, we think of the men who make this art, because we think of men as the inventors of technology. Even now, in the ongoing discussions of NFTs, the main focus is on male performers and the huge sums for which their NFTs have been sold. But if you take a closer look, female artists, including artists of color, have been pioneers in NFT for years.

Many of the issues with digital art were raised by female digital artists as early as the late 1960s, when computers first became accessible to the public. Until then, digital technology was the prerogative of the military, the State and large university laboratories. Despite his connection to men, male performers didn’t seem to own him yet. Thus, women artists began to experiment with digital technology.

What made digital art for women artists, even those who didn’t call themselves feminists, innovative, was that they used digital technology for social justice – to impact the relationship between the individual, community and society.

In the United States, feminism evolved in the 1960s and 1970s, primarily among white women. Despite his radical assault on patriarchal male privilege, he has been criticized as privileging whiteness and heteronormative gender definitions as universals for all of humanity. Postcolonialist, queer, and race-critical theorists have made it intersectional – including gender fluidity, anti-racist, wary of power, and resistant to oppression. It underlies “Me Too” and Black Lives Matter.

Anne Spalter, “Gem Castle” (2021) AI-generated image on the superrare.com platform. (courtesy the artist)

Women digital artists have questioned the bias of digital technology itself. They viewed digital technology and especially the internet as tools of patriarchal culture, elevating white men into a ruling class that oppressed women, people of color, and non-binary individuals. Legacy Russell conceptualized “glitch feminism” to thwart patriarchy control over the online world. Digital technology, including NFTs, works on the basis of on and off, or one and zero. Russell argues that this system of opposites is just like human society: based on the binary definition of male and female. She proposes that if we view the off position as a correction, instead of a mistake, the online world offers space to create multiple identities, so that marginalized people can define themselves in a way that the world away from the keyboard does not allow them.

The questions raised by cyberfeminists are relevant today with the rise of cryptocurrency and NFTs. Are these cyber protests an extension of the patriarchal world, based on money and property? Or does the way NFTs merge the online and offline worlds offer a chance to promote a non-binary and more inclusive society?

Digital feminist artists have also had an influence on the movement to eliminate the cultural hierarchy in which fine art is valued over popular culture. Feminist digital artists have harnessed the potential of social media for performance art. Their use of social media has fueled the process of democratizing the art world, bypassing the traditional structure of art, leading to our acceptance of NFTs as art even when made by non-artists.

Women digital artists have introduced feminist concepts into two other areas of popular visual culture: video games and cartoons. Contrary to the conventional belief that these fields are dominated by men, women have been heavily involved. It is estimated that there were at least 200,000 female players even at the start of the digital game.

Likewise, anime, a genre of Japanese animation, has been portrayed as male dominated as women have been instrumental in developing products that provide alternatives to male manga / anime narratives. They subvert narratives by turning male superheroes into female heroines and featuring young androgynous women in cross-dressing, offering eroticism to queer and transgender audiences. In countries with a restrictive culture, such as Russia, series such as Sailor moon in which a schoolgirl becomes a being with superpowers are popular with non-binary young men under government oppression.

In the United States, LGBTQ artists have criticized the patriarchal masculinity of most video games by creating games related to LGBTQ life like a notable game of Auntie Pixelante, the pen name of Anna Anthropy, on becoming trans, or the game of Mattie Brice, Mainichi in which a gay and black protagonist goes through daily activities, some of which involve anti-gay confrontations.

These artists have harnessed the potential of digital technology to deliver feminist critique of the patriarchal and masculinist society in which we live. The art world must recognize the important contributions of women artists to digital art, but it must also recognize the importance of digital art itself. If you look at the art history surveys of contemporary art, the art in question remains mostly traditional art forms. I link digital art to mainstream art history through feminist theory, identity work and social justice. But there are other aspects of digital art that have emerged that are shaping the mainstream of art. The resistance to seeing digital art as serious art may have to do with the conventional separation of high art from folk art. But the line between the two has collapsed in large part thanks to pioneering feminist digital artists. It looks like the NFTs will continue this process. The discipline of art history will eventually have to take into account art based on digital technologies.

Golden Array by Grimanesa Amoros invites viewers to reflect on connections through “the invisible trajectories of a wireless universe”.

Hyperallergic is for the organizers of the Queer Cinema for Palestine, a global alternative event to the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival, supported by the Israeli government.

Until now, descriptions of the city have mostly been limited to written accounts of European explorers, according to a new study published in the journal Antiquity.

Acquisitions include works by Michael Menchaca, Groana Melendez, Lucia Hierro, Justin Favela, and more.



Leave A Reply