Martha Wilson, a Pennsylvania native, is an American feminist performance artist and the founding director of Franklin Furnace art organization. After graduating from Wilmington College in Ohio, Wilson did graduate work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the early 1970’s where she began to create photographic and video works. Wilson, being a feminist artist, has dedicated her artistic work to creating original videos and photo/text platforms that explore female subjectivity and challenge societal norms by using costume transformations and role-playing. In 1974, Wilson moved to New York City where she gained attention for her controversial performances, costumes, characters and works. She has been there ever since.
In order to challenge the established normality of performance, artwork and books, Wilson founded Franklin Furnace in 1976. Since then, Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc. is on a mission to make the world safe for avant-garde art by providing an artist-run space that focuses on the exploration and promotion of artists’ books and periodicals, installation art, and video and performance art.
Wilson investigates physical identity and gender roles by elaborating on assumptions of numerous identities and flaunting her idea of beauty and sexuality. Featured in Artist: Body, Wilson’s work, Before and After, compares a photograph of her body from 1974 and a current photograph. By displaying the two side-by-side, she reminds her audience of what will change in the future, the inevitable. In today’s culture, women are taught to remain flawless as in youth, but Wilson’s work challenges this view by portraying the reality of a woman’s body as she changes.
In addition to her photographic and video works, Martha Wilson founded and created an all-female vocal performing artists group called DISBAND. The band, comprised of 5 women artists who can’t play any instruments, impersonated various political figures. DISBAND was based in New York City from 1978 to 1982, but made a comeback appearance in 2008 when they performed at the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center as a part of “WACK! Art and Feminist Revolution” in Los Angeles.
Admired for her solo artistic efforts, Wilson has won many awards and fellowships throughout the years. She is a recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship. In addition to these fellowships, she won an Obie Award and a Bessie Award for commitment to artists’ freedom of expression. In 2011, Wilson joined P.P.O.W Gallery in New York where she launched a solo exhibition called, “I have become my own worst fear.” Since then, she has been featured in many other exhibitions through P.P.O.W Gallery, New York.
Today, Wilson’s work, “...has been seen to contribute significantly to what would become feminism's most enduring preoccupations: the investigation of identity and embodied subjectivity.” -Jane Wark
Before and After will be featured in Artist: Body, which will run from February 27th until March 27th with gallery hours throughout the week Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am-4pm, Fridays 10am-8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 1pm-4pm.
Written by Sheridan Fromm, LAL Intern, University of Kentucky ISC student