'Women of the World Unite, you have nothing to lose but Cheese Cake' was painted at a critical time when feminism had first embarked on a significant re-write of a gender-imbalanced history, and artists around the world were rejecting utopian modernist beliefs. The advent of the pop and conceptual art movements was starting to blur the boundaries between art and everyday life, between high art and popular culture.
Margaret Harrison drew on her rigorous training in the techniques of drawing and painting to produce figurative works, unusual at the time, of women in varying poses and guises, for example balanced on ice cream cones, as superheroes or cartoon characters such as Minnie Mouse. She intended her works to be an amusing feminist critique: 'they are satires on maleness and femaleness, and constructed notions of masculinity and femininity, which distort both men and women… both satirical and affectionate.'
However, her work was received with opposition. On the first showing of this painting and the accompanying drawings at Motif Editions Gallery, London in 1971 the exhibition was closed by police a day after it opened. The police were responding to complaints about the pornographic nature of some of the works, particularly the images of men. It was subsequently found that one of the works, a drawing of Hugh Heffner as a bunny boy, was stolen. A media storm erupted and Harrison made the decision to take this group of works out of public view, where they remained for over two decades.
Deciding recently to bring the work back into the public domain, she feels that it is only now, since the developments of feminism, post-feminism and post-modernism, that the humour can 'be appreciated and sexuality and identity… be explored in relation to images in popular culture'. Harrison believes that it’s now 'ok to look at the body again'.
- Artwork Details: 88 x 53cm
Frame, 90.4 x 54.6 x 4.5cm
- Material description: acrylic on canvas
- Credit line: © the artist
- Medium: Painting
- Accession number: ACC2/2008