Nancy Spero was an American artist and activist, who lived most of her life in New York. She is known for her continuous commitment to contemporary political, social, and cultural concerns, chronicling wars, and apocalyptic violence as well as articulating visions of ecstatic rebirth and the celebratory cycles of life.
At the beginning of her career, her work tackled profoundly existential themes, then moving to more markedly social and political ones. Spero was one of the members of the first generation of American women artists with close ties to the feminist movement. However, her work has long been undervalued and relegated to the realm of feminist debate; being the full recognition of its value only a recent development.
For over the fifty years of her career, Nancy Spero has been developing a powerfully metaphorical visual language that combines images and words. And that aimed at the construction of a new subjectivity, conquering the masculine space of painting with what art historians considered her army of vital, “crazy women”, always in motion.
As a woman artist openly engaged to the feminist movement her works aimed at the construction of a new subjectivity, instead of a deconstruction, at affirmation and not at negation. Communicating a vibrant sense of generosity, bounty, and optimism. Which can seem a little strange to an artist who always searched for the uncomfortable and brutal aspects of society.
With her works, Spero wanted to question the critical discourse on “closure” by showing how that closure could be a potential opening up to other subjects, another type of art, to another history that until then were marginalised.
Her complex network of collective and individual voices was a catalyst for the creation of her figurative lexicon representing women from prehistory to the present in such epic-scale paintings and collage on paper as Torture of Women (1976), Notes in Time on Women (1979) and The First Language (1981).
For many, the installation Maypole: Take no Prisoners, which was created to the Venice Biennale in 2007, is extraordinarily powerful, a visceral response to the post-9/11 military policy of the US, to the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, came as a surprise.
Spero has had several retrospective exhibitions at major museums around the world.
- In 2010, her Notes in Time was posthumously reanimated as a digital scroll in the online magazine Triple Canopy.
- Spero was interviewed for the film !Women Art Revolution (2010).