The histories of feminism and art that we still need are local histories. In the context of American experimental cinema these are histories, which look at feminism in practice: feminism as it is articulated through writing and criticism, certainly, but also through filmmaking and programming/curating. This paper looks at Peggy Ahwesh’s filmmaking and programming from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. It situates key films such as Martina’s Playhouse (1989) and The Deadman (1989) in relationship to Ahwesh’s collaboration with actors, and the currents of feminist debate, which these films both contributed to and challenged. Inside the field of experimental cinema, the 1980s are sometimes remembered for complaints made against the institutionalisation of the avant-garde; an attack that clearly had films by feminist filmmakers in its sites. Right across the arts, the late-1980s and early-1990s are also remembered for the gutting of arts funding, and censorship of feminist and queer artists. But the 1980s and 1990s were also a period in which artists and programmers widened the scope of what counts as feminist art and challenged theoretical orthodoxies of all kinds.
Michele Pierson is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College London.