Take Back the Night (1978)
Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz

This project was part of a general intention to integrate artists and activists that characterized feminist performance art in the 1970s. The first national “Perspectives in Pornography” conference was an important opportunity to include women visual artists in political organizing. Ariadne: A Social Art Network co-created by Lacy and Labowitz curated a series of interventions with artists from around the state. Events, performances, and exhibitions for the conference were produced by Motion, a San Francisco performance collective that organized a panel of female eroticism and art and created rituals to open and close the conference; Micki McGee and Mary Lynn Hughes who designed a bus poster and postcard series on violence; and The Feminist Art Workers who created a tour/art performance for women artists traveling from Los Angeles.

Lacy and Labowitz created their own work, a mass public performance for 3000 women marchers who left the conference and marched toward San Francisco’s pornography district. On a hill overlooking the strip, marchers first sighted the brightly lit float that they greeted with enthusiastic chants, ululations borrowed from women in the Algerian movement, and an occasion- al rambunctious window smashing. Holly Near sang “Fight Back” as the two-sided float moved slowly through the crowds—its front a Madonna bedecked with flowers and electric candles after the Semana Santa celebrations in Latin America, and its back a three-headed lamb carcass, like the goddess Hecate, whose open gut cavity leaked layers of black and white pornography. Marchers ripped the pornography from the backside of the float as it went by and fell in behind the float.

Participating artists include Betsy Irons, Ann Klix, Monica Mayer, and Rosemarie Prins.

This project was part of the Ariadne series of works. Commissioned by Women against Violence and Pornography in the Media for the First Annual Perspectives in Pornography Conference, San Francisco, California.