Barbara T., Untitled (Four Performance Documents): Hunger Strike, 1980
Barbara T. Smith
Untitled (Four Performance Documents)

At the end of the 1960s, Barbara T. Smith (*1931, USA) was one of the first performance artists on the West Coast of the USA. In the early 1970s, Smith created performances based on ritualistic actions and often connected to food. According to the artist, "Feed Me" (1973) was repeatedly criticised and misunderstood, but she has always rejected the accusation that she treats women in art simply as the objects of the male gaze and that she affirms the idea that they are available objects in everyday life of society. Always in control, she subverts the idea that a naked woman is merely at men’s disposal. Smith has repeatedly positioned her performances in socially critical contexts, and she maintains a lively exchange with other contemporary artists (such as Nancy Buchanan and Suzanne Lacy), with whom she collaborates.

For Feed Me (1973), Barbara T. Smith sat naked in a room where only one visitor could enter at a time. A voice could be heard on a tape recorder, ordering visitors to feed her, leaving them to go about this task on their own. In Intimations of Immortality (1974) she switched places with several homeless women, spending time sitting on a park bench while they sat in a museum. On the last day, she invited a group of homeless people into the museum, where they decided to have a party. For The Cover Up (1976), Smith designed a hotel room to look like a sexual fight had taken place. An interview with a chambermaid can be heard on tape, talking about patriarchal negligence in phrases like “Men only want quick sex and then they leave.” For The Hunger Strike (1980), which Smith performed together with Faith Wilding and Leslie Labowitz, the artists made white signs that they displayed in a protest against the rejection of an equal opportunity law. During one of their art actions, Smith and Wilding saved Labowitz’s life when she collapsed, dressed fully in black, after an exhausting protest action against the current political situation.

Courtesy Barbara T. Smith