American artist Hannah Wilke was born in New York in 1940 and died prematurely from cancer in 1993. Although she worked primarily as a sculptor, she also produced many drawings, photographs, and videos that deal with social, political, and gender issues. Her work has been affiliated with many different contemporary movements, including Abstract Expressionism (stress on creative process and individual gesture), Minimalism (focus on reductive form and materiality of the object), and Conceptualism (practice of social criticism). Yet, her oeuvre is best understood, on the one hand, vis-à-vis Marcel Duchamp's involvement with language, eroticism, and twisted humor, and, on the other hand, in connection to Body and Performance Art in the use of her own body to address issues of sexuality.
The naked body as a sculptural form, or as object of art, was Wilke's primary means of expression. In the 1970s and early 1980s, she produced a series of performances, videos, and photographs in which she used her own body to confront the erotic representation of women in art history and popular culture, and to examine issues of sexuality, femininity, and feminism.
For Wilke, feminism was intrinsically more important than art; art with a focus on the body was a way to engage those issues and contribute to the Women's Art Movement. In order to liberate the notion of the female body from a "mother-whore" syndrome (caring-nurturing, and seductive-dangerous figure), Wilke started to employ her own body as an object. She treated it either as a sculptural form on which she would place her chewing gum pieces, or as a living sculpture, acting in performances and videos.
By doing so, she aimed to provoke the public's critical response and to argue for a self-spoken female eroticism that had not been welcomed in western culture. Moreover, eroticism was for her an open call to see the female body as "the sexy and the self-respecting, the sensuous and the serious" body, rather than just as the sexualized body passively waiting to be satisfied by a man. Thus, it was an act of political freedom in a male-dominated culture.