Cups Runneth Over

artful bras! Turns out there’s a whole movement. See this movie:

Inspired by the writings of Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer and Kate Millett, women in the 1970s banded together in living rooms across the
country, talking about the struggle to achieve equality in the home and the workplace. There’s nothing like a group of like-minded thinkers – kindred spirits – to help rally around a cause. Their slogan: The personal is political.
Flash forward to 2010, and the word “feminism” carries a negative connotation among younger women. Or perhaps it was always associated with humorless, sexless
rage. Those early feminists had every reason to be angry. They had to fight for everything: to be taken seriously, to be heard, to be offered jobs that didn’t require a typing test, to be paid a fair wage, to participate in sports and exhibit their artwork in museums and galleries. You’ve come a long way, baby – or have we?

In the film The Heretics, to be screened at Lambertville’s ACME Screening Room May 21 and 22, a group of
women reunite to reminisce on the achievements of that era, and to extol the virtues of this movement to younger women. Arlene Ladden, a poet and an English professor featured in The Heretics, will be present to talk about “Heresies,” and The Artful Bra Project will be on view.

“The ACME Screening Room is delighted to present this program bringing together three generations of women, in three different mediums – film, poetry and art – to celebrate women in the arts and support issues that are central to all women’s lives,” says Sara Scully, program producer, ACME Screening Room, who teaches in the gender studies department at The College of New Jersey.

Feminists taught that nice girls finished last. It was the end of innocence, and feminists were young and naughty (smoking cigars!). Although these days we may feel like alumni from Menopause the Musical, another lesson feminism taught is that beauty has no age. We’re still strong, we’re still smart and powerful – so what if we’re wrinkled and gray-haired? If a craggy face gives a man character, a woman’s lines are the signs of her achievements.

In The Heretics, filmmaker Joan Braderman of No More Nice Girls Films follows her dream and comes to
New York City in 1971 to be a director. She joins a feminist art collective that publishes a revolutionary journal, “Heresies,” about women in art.

If the women in The Heretics are familiar and recognizable, it’s not just their New York accents: they are our mothers, our grandmothers, ourselves. Su Friedrich, Miriam Shapiro, Joan Snyder (a MacArthur Fellow whose home was recently featured in The New York Times‘ “Habitats” column), Pat Steir, Cecilia Vicuna and many others made up the collective that stayed up until the wee hours, sharing editorship of their journal that published what Art Forum and Art in America would never dare.

“Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics” was published from 1977 to 1992, and the film weaves graphics from that journal, using collage and animation, to tell its story. The film revisits these women 30 years later as accomplished writers, architects, editors, filmmakers, artists,
professors, curators. At least one of the artists interviewed told Ms. Braderman that “Heresies” changed all their lives.

“Heresies acted as a lightning rod for the raging debates in the New York art world about the role of art in politics and vice versa,” says the film’s website. “To some, feminism seems as if it is an archaic, perhaps exotic but inaccessible moment, now past… young women have been lulled into a
sense that the issues faced by the Women’s Movement cannot touch them – until, in fact, they do… 60 percent of art students are women, only 15 percent show up in galleries and
4 percent of the work in Museum of Modern Arts shows is
made by women.”
While a struggling poet/adjunct professor in New York in the early 1970s, living in a Greenwich Village apartment where she paid $42 a month, Ms. Ladden was invited by two of her long-time friends to join “Heresies.” “We were a great group of women, but ‘Heresies’ made us even better,” she
writes in an e-mail interview from her vacation home in upstate New York. “As one of the women says in the film, we were smarter together than we were individually.”
Collaborating on the journal did not mean that each person took a section to work on, according to Ms. Ladden, but rather, in a non-hierarchical fashion, all the work was shared.

“The debate over nearly every word was typical and so enlarging,” she says. “Sitting in a big circle, we all weighed in and, where disagreement existed, it went to a vote. There was truly much more emphasis on process than product.”

If Ms. Ladden had to make a list of life-changing experiences, “‘Heresies’ would definitely be on that list,” she says. “Although I had considered myself a feminist before, it dramatically deepened my appreciation for women in so many ways. In fact, it dramatically changed all my relationships.”

“Heresies” stopped publishing in 1992, when many of the founders had moved on. They all came together again in October 2009 for the film’s premiere at MOMA. “That was truly exhilarating,” recounts Ms. Ladden, who still keeps in touch with her heretic cronies, and has tentative plans to see some of them this summer.
So just what is an artful bra? Says the press release: “Women’s undergarments have been a source of
inspiration and liberation throughout history: from feminists’ bra burning in the ’60s to current day women athletes donning spandex sports bras to better their performance… Come view these truly inspirational undergarments – fanciful, beautiful and moving – all made by local art students to raise breast cancer awareness and hope.”

The art bras will be on display and auctioned off to raise money for Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. A video of another art-bra show ( shows
glamorous breast cancer survivors in a fashion show of artful bras, decorated with beads and sequins – one has animal horns protruding from it. Danyelle Lala, a photographer, painter and metal
sculptor, as well as art teacher at Pennsbury High School in Fairless Hills, Pa., was inspired to create a
similar project for her students, mostly female. The one male student was interested in the project because
his mother was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, according to Ms. Lala. “The students are mature
enough to handle this,” she says. “They are interested in fashion, and bras are part of fashion. They are also aware of the disease, either through family or friends of family.

“This is a lighthearted approach to something serious,” she continues. The students used an actual bra or a swimsuit top to build on. One has patches to indicate scars, others are made with washers, gears, foil, sequins and ribbon. A bra made from plastic fruit is titled “Nature’s Finest,” another carries out a Navajo theme, and one is made to look like a set of eyes with pupils and long lashes. Playing cards, poker chips, even dollar bills – anything is fair game.

The students were assigned to come up with a theme, design it and execute it. “Tasty Cakes” turns the bra cups into cupcakes, “Up Up and Away” uses balloons, “Make a Wish” is made up of tiny paper cranes, and
“Secure for the Cure” is a corset.

“In sculpture, I teach them that display is just as important as the project itself,” says Ms. Lala.
And while feminists may have sought to get away from the domestic arts, these girls did a lot of sewing to create the art bras. “They are hand sewn using fishing line, and they use hot glue,” says Ms. Lala.

How do you get a project like this past the principal?

“There was a little bit of awkwardness,” admits Ms. Lala, “but when I explained how it would be presented and tastefully done, it was approved and in fact will be displayed in the district art show.”

The Heretics will be screened at the ACME Screening Room, 25 S. Union St., Lambertville, May 21 at 7 and 8:50 p.m., and May 22, 6 and 8:15 p.m. Poet Arlene Ladden will speak about her time as an editor of “Heresies” at the May 22 screening. The Artful Bra Project will be on view both nights. Some of the bras will be modeled. Tickets cost $7 advance, $10 at door.

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1 Response to Cups Runneth Over

  1. What a great idea – if I’d had the bra pictured here, I would’ve worn it out dancing in the 70s!

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