From Faith Wilding's feminist performance and installation works of the early 1970s to her later drawings and paintings, Wilding has built a distinctive practice that brings together her longstanding interests in the female body, environment, and themes of generation and transformation.Read More
In 1961, Faith Wilding left her native Paraguay for the United States, where she has since lived. She received a BA in English from the University of Iowa in 1968 and completed her postgraduate studies in Studio Art and Art History at California State University, Fresno, in 1971, before moving on to an MFA course at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).
While at CalArts, Wilding became known for her involvement with the school's Feminist Art Program led by artists Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro. Wilding contributed two major works to Womanhouse, the Program's culminating group exhibition in 1972, that reflected her early interest in exploring women's roles in society. Fran Wilding's Womb Room, an immersive installation constructed by crochet, brought what had been traditionally considered women's craft into the traditionally more masculine domain of art-making. The other work—15-minute performance Waiting—saw Wilding recite her poem about a woman's life as dictated by social norms: waiting to become a girl, a woman, a mother, then an elder, until death.
Wilding is also recognised for her work with subRosa, a cyberfeminist art collective she co-founded with artist Hyla Willis in 1998. Employing participatory performances, workshops, public interventions, and installations, subRosa investigates the impact of biological and information technologies on the lives of women. In the Pittsburgh Biennial 2011, for example, the group organised Feminist Matter(s): Propositions and Undoings, an interactive project that invited visitors to sit at tables and reconsider the representation of women in the history of science and technology.
Compared to her early performances and installations, Faith Wilding's works on paper (from the mid-1970s on) have been slow to receive attention. Nevertheless, they are crucial in comprehending her visual language and vast sources of inspiration. Recurring motifs include seed pods, chrysalises, and organic forms suggestive of wombs—symbols potent with ideas of production and transformation while showing the affinity with nature the artist has had since her childhood, which was spent in close proximity to the land.
Faith Wilding also incorporates quotations from writers such as Emma Goldman, Virginia Woolf, William Blake, and Hildegard von Bingen in her drawings and paintings. In one painting titled Propagations: Hildegard and I (1985), Wilding employs her characteristic vibrant colours and intricate brushwork to depict natural forms and the female body, alongside a mode of figuration reminiscent of medieval illuminated manuscripts.
Faith Wilding's environmental concerns were at the centre of Un-Natural Parables, her solo exhibition at Western Exhibitions, Chicago, in 2017. Her 'Paraguay: Republica de la Soya' series was inspired by her visit to Paraguay in 2015—her first return since she left the country—where she witnessed the replacement of forest areas by farms for soy crops. A watercolour-and-ink painting in the series, Next Gen Cassava (2017), portrays a woman carrying a large plant and a man with outstretched arms, with a banner that states 'studies indicate cassava stands to be the only staple crop that will benefit from climate changes + poor soils!'
Faith Wilding's solo exhibitions include Scriptorium Revisited, Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles (2019). The artist's first major retrospective exhibition—Fearful Symmetries—travelled to Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh (2018); University of Houston-Clear Lake, Texas (2016); Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena (2015); Threewalls, Chicago (2014); and Rhodes College, Memphis (2014).
Faith Wilding's artwork was part of the landmark group exhibition Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution, which travelled from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2007, to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. (2007); PS1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island (2008); and the Vancouver Art Gallery (2008).
A long-time educator, Faith Wilding has taught at Scripps College; Claremont Graduate School, California; and Cooper Union School of Art, New York; among others. She is Professor Emeritus at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, where she taught Performance from 2002 on.
Biography by Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020