50 Years Later, Sister Corita’s Political Pop Art is Relevant As Ever

May 16, 2016 by

Sister Corita Kent is a Pop Art pioneer too often erased from the annals of modern art history. Now, she’s taking center stage at an exhibition at Miami’s Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University. In the Beginning Was The Word, which opened Saturday and will remain on view until September 18, is part of a three-part program at the museum called The Summer of Women, lending space and attention to a wide range of female artists.

Kent’s journey to social justice-oriented art pioneer was unusual. She joined a Catholic convent in 1936—right after she completed high school—and served in the Immaculate Heart of Mary order in Los Angeles for three decades as a “rebel nun” and head of the art department. (She ultimately left the order to pursue art in Boston, feeling stifled by an archdiocese that did not always stand by her politicized service.)

In 1962, she took her students to a gallery exhibition for a man who, at the time, was little known: Andy Warhol. In response to viewing his now-iconic soup can paintings, Kent began a career in Pop Art that utilized logos and corporate slogans as backdrops in silkscreen pieces calling for world peace, civil rights and dissent. She was a feminist who weaved the words of Gertrude Stein, Martin Luther King, Jr. and even the Beatles into works that remain relevant in a time where the gains of the sixties and seventies are under attack.

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“Her works reflect the activist ethos of the time and express her concerns about racism, poverty, and the Vietnam War,” Dr. Jordana Pomeroy, director of the Frost Art Museum, said in a press release. “She saw her calling to use art as a response to cultural discord and shifts in public sentiment. Corita Kent’s legacy as a Sister who sought to awaken social consciousness in the United States is exemplified by her dynamic colorful prints that continue to provoke discussion and promulgate sentiments about social iniquities that still exist in our society, half a century after their creation.”

Kent’s art did more, though, than simply spark conversation. Her works were frequently spotted at protests in the sixties and seventies, where activists carried them as protest signs. She herself also walked the walk of activism by designing posters and billboards for organizations like Amnesty International, the International Walk for Hunger and Physicians for Social Responsibility in order to lend a hand to the movements that defined her career.

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Despite her contributions to not only the art world but cultural conversations at-large, Sister Corita is often left behind in conversations about Pop Art, and even when her career was reaching a fevered peak she remained on the fringe of the male-dominated art movement. As a woman in the arts, she was already at a disadvantage; as a woman of the cloth, she stood in even starker opposition to the art world’s typical heroes: Men.

“An ‘artist’ was from New York,” Ian Berry, who co-curated a retrospective of her work at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, said in an interview with NPR. “They were a man; they were an epic, abstract painter. And she wore a habit—she just didn’t look like what the, sort of, movie version of an artist looked like.”

Art historian Susan Dackerman made the same point in Harvard Magazine. “Corita Kent in her habit couldn’t very well go hang out at The Factory with Warhol,” she told Jonathan Shaw. “There wasn’t really room in Pop art’s macho style for women artists.”

Nevertheless, Sister Corita and her work endure—and 50 years after some of her most important pieces made their original debut, she’s finally getting her due.

Photos are all from the Corita Art Center.

carmen riosCarmen Rios is the digital editor at Ms., community director and feminism editor at Autostraddle, and a contributing writer at Everyday Feminism. Her work has also appeared in MEL, Mic, BuzzFeed, Feministing, and BITCH. She’s been dubbed a “digital native” and “vapid and uninteresting” by various people across the Internet and stays very zen in L.A. traffic. You can find her on Twitter,Instagram and Tumblr


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50 Years Later, Sister Corita’s Political Pop Art is Relevant As Ever

June 2016 – Call to Action – Women Demand Control Over Our Reproduction

Women are the Experts: National Week of Action for Abortion and Birth Control
June 3-10, 2016

#thisoppresseswomen #notmyclinic #shoutyourabortion

Call to Action – Women Demand Control Over Our Reproduction

Controlling our reproduction is a basis of women’s freedom. On May 16, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Zubik v. Burwell and is expected to decide Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt next month. Whatever the outcome, the Court will change women’s access to abortion and birth control – and we’re expected to passively wait to see how our lives will be affected.

Enough already!  We demand control over our reproduction.  Join us for a Week of Action.

Speaking out is a powerful tool. In Florida and New York, we’ll host women testifying on their experiences with abortion, birth control, and pregnancy scares. We will distribute a packet on how to host a speakout- and we hope that women around the country will also organize events where women can testify on their need to control their reproduction.

Abortion rights were won by organized women- not simply given to us by the Supreme Court. In the United States, abortion rights were won by everyday women who joined together in groups and dared to tell the truth publicly about their own illegal abortions or their fears of the consequences of unwanted pregnancy.

We saw this first in New York where, on February 13, 1969, women won greater access to abortion from the state legislature after a group of radical feminists who would soon take the name Redstockings disrupted a New York City hearing on abortion reform.  The New York legislature planned to create reform based on the opinions of a panel of “experts”—consisting of 13 men and a nun. But we know that women are the experts. These feminists demandedthat the hearing members listen to the real experts–women!  Women interrupted the hearing and bravely testified about their then-illegal abortions. The women demanded what they really wanted–the repeal of all abortion laws, meaning no restrictions.  About a month later, Redstockings held its own “hearing,” an open meeting in the Washington Square Methodist Church where twelve women testified about their experiences with illegal abortion or the fear that they could be pregnant. The disruption and the hearing that followed resulted in New York becoming the first state to legalize abortion. The NY law became the model for Roe v. Wade. It was a win, but with Roe v. Wade we got reform, instead of abortion law repeal.

Their fight is still ours today. For women, the right to birth control, including abortion, is a cornerstone of women’s freedom. Women must control if and when we have children to determine the direction of our lives and be on equal footing with men. Without an organized, strong feminist movement making radical demands and keeping up the pressure, our victories have been attacked and eroded. We need to strengthen the radical movement to turn this around!

In the Zubik case, the Supreme Court was supposed to decide whether employers could completely block their employees’ access to birth control by blocking them from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control funding. The court didn’t stand with women. Instead, it ordered the government and employers back to the lower courts to find a compromise.

In Whole Woman’s Health, the Supreme Court will decide whether to permit the state of Texas to require medically unnecessary regulations that will close nearly every abortion clinic.  The Supreme Court’s decision will have reaching effects because many states have passed laws similar to the Texas law.

We are calling for a national week of speak outs for abortion and birth control, Friday, June 3rd–Friday, June 10th. Women are the experts—we know what we need and don’t need.  We don’t need additional “safety” regulations on abortion.  We don’t need employers deciding whether we get birth control. Women need unrestricted access to free birth control and abortions. Women, speak out!

http://womensliberation.org/index.php/events/324-june-2016-call-to-action

We Can—And Must—Meet Contraceptive Needs in Developing Regions

Investing $21 per user per year to meet contraceptive needs and offer quality contraceptive services in developing regions would result in 6 million fewer unintended pregnancies each year. There would be 2.1 million fewer unplanned births, 2.4 million fewer unsafe abortions and 5,600 fewer maternal deaths related to unintended pregnancies.

May 19, 2016 by

This month, the fourth Women Deliver conference—in the wake of the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—focused on how to implement the SDGs so they matter most for girls and women. There was a special focus on sexual and reproductive health, in recognition of the reality that many young women—most especially those in the developing world—are being left behind.

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Today, of the 38 million adolescent women aged 15 to 19 in developing regions who are sexually active and want to avoid pregnancy, 23 million have an unmet need for modern contraceptives—meaning they are not using a contraceptive method at all, or they are using a less effective traditional method.

Meanwhile, current use of modern contraceptives by the other 15 million adolescent women prevents an estimated 5.4 million unintended pregnancies each year. (Of these pregnancies, an estimated 2.9 million would have ended in abortion, many of which would have been performed under unsafe conditions.) Current use of modern contraceptives also prevents 3,000 maternal deaths annually among adolescent women in developing countries.

These are impressive numbers, and a new study from the Guttmacher Institute—released at Women Deliver this week—adds to them. Our researchers found that improving existing contraceptive services for current modern contraceptives, as well as expanding services to the 23 million adolescent women with unmet need in developing regions, would cost only an estimated $770 million annually, or an average of just $21 per user each year.

The impact of this investment would be truly remarkable.

Investing $21 per user per year to meet contraceptive needs and offer quality contraceptive services in developing regions would result in 6 million fewer unintended pregnancies each year. There would be 2.1 million fewer unplanned births, 2.4 million fewer unsafe abortions and 5,600 fewer maternal deaths related to unintended pregnancies.

These goals are attainable and the financial investment to achieve them would have enormous long-term effects on young women’s lives: Not only would it improve adolescent women’s sexual and reproductive health, it would improve their long-term social and economic well-being. Enabling young women to avoid unintended pregnancy and childbearing until they feel ready to become mothers allows them to achieve more education, better job opportunities and healthier lives for themselves and their children. Meeting adolescent women’s unmet contraceptive needs is not only the right thing to do, but is critical to achieve the SDGs—not only the few focused on sexual and reproductive health, but all of them.

Photo courtesy of UK Department for International Development on Flickr and licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

csummersDr. Cynthia Summers joined the Guttmacher Institute as Vice President for Communications & Publications in 2012 and was named Executive Vice President in 2015. Prior to joining the Guttmacher Institute, Dr. Summers served as the Executive Director of Health Planning at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Director of Take Care New York and Director of Marketing and Public Affairs at Danco Laboratories. Dr. Summers received her DrPH in health policy and administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago and received their Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award in 2013. She received her MPH degree in community health from San Diego State University and her BS in biology from the University of Utah.