James Reviews Lynn Hershman Leeson’s W.A.R.: !Women Art Revolution [Sundance 2011 Review]

W”.A.R.” asks the question, “Can you name three women artists?” Can you do it? I know I had to think long and hard to name more than three, and one of them was the usually mentioned Frida Kahlo. It’s something women artists go through every day, which is one of the questions asked in Lynn Hershman Leeson’s new documentary. It’s a look at the women’s art scene, which never was given its proper due. It will also make you laugh and upset at the same time, showing the pain and suffering these women had to go through to get their artwork even noticed in the art world.

Leeson, an artist herself, has been documenting the journey female artists have been going through for about 40 years now, by cataloging interviews with friends, colleagues and other artists who she has worked with or been a part of the scene. Luckily it isn’t a film of these sorely ignored artists whining about why they never got the notoriety they deserved. Instead it’s a look at their struggle, but with a light at the end of the tunnel. They did it the grassroots way, by showing their art anywhere they could. They bought their own spaces, no matter how decrepit they were, in order to showcase the collective’s output. It is a story instead of hope. And to never give up, even when the man is holding you down.

What’s interesting is that during this movement we also had the Civil Rights movement, which of course was on the news front, leaving this movement in the shadows to operate. Which in turn might have been the best thing, gaining cult status in the circles that mattered most. It’s sad that most people can name a male artist without blinking an eye, but if someone mentioned Susan Grode, Judy Chicago, Sylvia Sleigh and others to you in conversation, would you know who they were talking about?

“!Women Art Revolution” is just that: a revolution of art. Leeson shows her collaborators as to who they truly are and deserve to be looked upon as. People who are artists. Artists who are people. Important in their own way and together, the most ignored group of artists that one can think of. These aren’t angry feminists who, as they tend to be depicted in film, are one note caricatures of women. They are living, breathing and in love with the art that they make. We see into these lives, their artwork and what they had to do sometimes to get noticed in a male dominated world.

With a score composed by Carrie Brownstein (formerly of Sleater Kinney), it gives the film the perfect D.I.Y. aesthetic that it needs. It’s an artist’s film, so it might not be for everyone. Bur for any art lover, it might be an eye opener for new and amazing artists that you didn’t know of. For documentary buffs, it’s definitely worth a watch, as it’s an intimate look within these artist’s trials and tribulations. Their battle uphill, considering they would already be at the bottom of said hill. And the way the revolution kept chugging along, even to this day and why it still needs a helping hand from art lovers around. A revelation from this year’s documentaries, it’s one that I will revisit soon. And now will be following these artists much more intently, hoping to see the work they make after this film.

8.5/10