In Memory of My Great Aunt Carol: A Feminist Artist

by Emilie Branch


“I prefer the women because we have a different aesthetic than the men”

My great-aunt passed away last month, but because she chose to be cremated the ceremony was this weekend. It was a two parter, with a party to celebrate her life on Saturday and a proper burial on Sunday. I lived with Carol for several months last year and got to know her well. She was an artist and an adamant feminist. She grew up like a woman born in the 1930’s should; she got married and then she had two children. This wasn’t quite enough; Carol was an artist. Newly divorced at age 38, she rented a loft in Soho before it was “Soho” and created art. She lived for art and wanted to use it to empower women, as it empowered her.

In 1979 she helped found the New York Feminist Art Institute which was created to counteract the male-dominated art world of that time. It also sought to bring women of variant backgrounds (women who had been abused or left their husbands were typical) together, in a safe and communal space. She told me that she had rented a barn and everyone lived there—I think they all even shared the loft for a bit of time; the specifics are hazy, but I imagine it being some fantastical hippie art paradise where women were totally free from the stress of men. I believe this was her vision as well, though things only stay utopian for so long. There were problems between her and the other founders and she had to bow out, though she had a good run.

In spite of leaving the NFAI, she continued to teach. I’m not sure which was more important to her, creating or teaching…I guess both. At her “life remembrance party” half of the guests were students. She had been teaching some people close to ten years and really influenced their lives—whether she had helped find them a job or counseled them about the merits of Prozac. I’m paying homage to my grandaunt through Bust, because she was such a feminist. Her order of operations was art and feminism, with both jockeying for first position. It was really, very important to her to be a woman who was also a serious painter. Here’s Carol talking about the artist Lynda Benglis. It’s a very candid video—look at how passionate she gets. It’s a passion I’m happy to share with the readers of Bust. 

“The inspiration should be, hey, I don’t have to do it one way…you have to give up the idea that you have to sell something.”

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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