It’s no secret that waves of social movements have largely been accompanied by art. We saw jazz emerge from the civil rights movement in the 20s, and pulp art play a large role in the LGBT movement around the 50s and 60s. Entire areas of study have been devoted to the role of art in activism, but scholars have largely quiet when it comes to commenting on the triad of social media, art, and activism.
Through the centuries, we’ve seen a link between appreciation of the female body and diverse forms of art. Today, painters and illustrators are starting to draw bodies that are accessible to all people, regardless of skin tone, shape or size. We’ve seen these types of artwork emerge in numerous new forms, from the linework that has become popular on Tumblr to the pastel-based pop art that’s presently on the rise. We’ve also seen a spike in more “traditional” forms of expression, like embroidery. While all of this may seem accidental, and to some extent possibly is, there’s a greater sense of empowerment that can be seen hidden in each of these mediums.
The vintage clothing trend is one of many prime examples of this. For reference, many of the clothes we’ve come to associate with “vintage” are actually more indicative of 90s style, which was an era was known for its scrunchies, mom jeans, and tube tops. Sound familiar? That’s because many of the trends we’ve adopted in America are really just stolen from other points in our history. But, what’s interesting about their prevalence in the activist “society”, so to speak, is that the 90s can best most easily pinpointed as the starting point of the feminist movement we now see and exist in today. This is not to say it was the start of the feminism in any way, but the version of it we most closely identify with started to take form in the 90s. Shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” empowered girls by spreading messages of positive affirmation and possibilities. Female youth were beginning to believe in their ability to accomplish whatever they set their mind to, which is a key trait that can’t accurately be traced back any earlier.
What I find most interesting about this trend is that we see these 90s forms of art being adapted to our digital society. The pop art that became incredibly well known at that time has evolved to include thinner lines but still portrays shocking similarities. Instagram activists like Ashley Lukashevsky are just one example of this. Her bright and bold works of art, I feel, sum up the state of the feminist movement today fairly well. Her use of color, portrayals of women, and line work is indicative of a larger trend in the feminist art world today. Below is one of her latest pieces of work, accompanied by a piece from Roy Lichtenstein, a painter from the 1990s.
Though the pieces themselves are different, their influences seem to remain largely similar. This can also be seen in the prevalence of vintage fashion accounts on platforms like Instagram. These trends, I believe, demonstrate not only 90s influence but the embracing of a culture that existed in the 90s. This leads me to believe the feminist movement is gradually moving back to and appreciating its roots, just not in the way we would think to look for it. Perhaps this appreciation and use of art that existed in that time period is a way of circling back to the beginnings of modern feminism and recognizing all that has been accomplished, while still maintaining the spirit of the movement that began years ago.