Someday the hatred and cruelty inscribed in Spero’s work may be a thing of the past, but so long as they blight the world, and so long as women confront state violence with the courage that Spero also commemorates, this work will be a testament to the fact that committed art can speak truth to power—and does so most effectively when speaking with the greatest formal, theoretical and poetic sophistication.
Torture of Women is Nancy Spero’s fierce and enduring contribution to contemporary art, to feminist thought and action, and to the continuing protest against torture, injustice, and the abuse of power.
This epic 125-foot-long collage, two years in the making, weaves ancient and modern stories of oppression and resistance by juxtaposing mythological imagery with written first person accounts by victims of torture, news reportage of missing women, and definitions of torture from the 13th and 20th centuries. Artistic ingenuity coupled with boldly feminist and political intent, Torture of Women is a public cry of outrage and a nuanced exploration of the continuum of violence and the isolation of pain. It is an ever radical, groundbreaking work of honesty, complexity, and beauty.
Siglio’s publication, three years in the making, translates the work into nearly 100 pages of detail so that the entirety of Torture of Women—with legible texts and vibrant color reproductions—can be experienced with immediacy and intimacy, providing a unique opportunity to engage this influential but infrequently exhibited work of art. Siglio’s publication was conceived not to simply document Torture of Women but to create a space for the reader to engage in multiple acts of reading of it—as an innovative and polyphonous narrative, as a feminist disquisition, as a register of political protest and outrage, and as an extraordinary work of art.
The book includes a selection of quotes by Spero as well as the essay “Fourteen Meditations of Torture of Women by Nancy Spero” by Diana Nemiroff; “Symmetries,” a story by Luisa Valenzuela; and an excerpt from The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry.
Made almost thirty years ago Nancy Spero’s Torture of Women is a seminal work in the history of contemporary art. A model of how appropriated words and images from multiple sources can be spliced and shaped into a forceful, coherent statement about the sexual, social, political, and existential dilemmas and dynamics of the modern world, Spero’s piece is at the same time among the most significant precursors of the “intertextual” practices that are are now regarded as quintessentially “post-modern.” Torture of Women is every bit as current as it was when it was first made. Someday the hatred and cruelty inscribed in Spero’s work may be a thing of the past, but so long as they blight the world, and so long as women confront state violence with the courage that Spero also commemorates, this work will be a testament to the fact that committed art can speak truth to power—and does so most effectively when speaking with the greatest formal, theoretical and poetic sophistication.
NANCY SPERO (1926 – 2009, born Cleveland, Ohio) is regarded as a pioneer in feminist art who has had a profound influence on subsequent generations of women artists. After working for almost twenty-five years in relative obscurity, her work received considerable international acclaim with more than a dozen solo museum exhibitions around the world, including a limited retrospective in 2010 at Centre Pompidou in Paris. In addition to solo shows at the ICA in London, MOCA in Los Angeles, the New Museum in New York, among others, her work has been included in numerous group exhibitions including, most recently, WACK: Art and the Feminist Revolution, the Whitney Biennial 2006, and Think with the Senses — Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense at the 52nd Venice Biennale.