by Vivian Green Fryd. Penn State University Press, February 2019. 368 p. ill. ISBN 9780271082066 (h/c), $49.95.
Reviewed May 2019
Alex O’Keefe, 2018-19 Kress Fellow in Art Librarianship, Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, Yale University, email@example.com
Breaking typical academic distance from the subject, Vivian Green Fryd’s introduction in Against Our Will takes on a first-person narrative as she contextualizes the book’s foundation. This choice results in a less aloof approach to the material, which follows artists’ anti-rape and anti-incest works from second-wave feminism to the present. Green Fryd chronologically gathers and represents artists who range from early career to prolific creators, following the evolution of artistic approaches and simultaneous societal conversations. The title hints at this book’s intention to go beyond analysis, paying homage to Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 work Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. It is clear by the end of the book and plainly stated in the concluding section that Green Fryd seeks to join the conversation these artists and other activists engage in, ultimately to support anti-rape and anti-incest movements through an art history lens.
The introduction of the book orients readers by moving from the traditional depictions of sexual trauma in art history to summaries of many sexual assault allegations and rulings from 2012 through 2018, back to second-wave and third-wave feminism, and finally to an overview of trauma theory. While it briefly synthesizes these large topics, those less familiar may wish to review works noted for more background knowledge. Each of the seven chapters dives deeper and contributes to the chronological mapping of anti-rape and anti-incest art beginning in the 1970s, with four chapters focusing on specific artists or projects. These specific sections include the collaborative or individual works of Suzanne Lacy, Leslie Labowitz, Faith Ringgold, Judy Chicago, Donald Woodman, and Kara Walker. The final chapter explores the twenty-first century, including the notable Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight (2014) by Emma Sulkowicz.
This book is proportionately more text than image, and provided images vary in scale and color (many being smaller and greyscale). Readers less familiar with the book’s subject may desire alternate image sources to supplement their reading. However, images are embedded in the text, making them easily viewed while following along. Having background in American art history and feminist movements, this reader found the book to be unique, well outlined, and strong in its message. Unfamiliar readers might find the large number of works, movements, and theories overwhelming at first glance, but they are well explained in the chapters. It is highly recommended for academic libraries serving art history, women’s and gender studies, pan-African studies, or other units with an interest in intersectional feminism, racial justice, social justice, or art.