In the early 1970’s, Judy Chicago met the writer and diarist Anais Nin (1903-1977). It was a heady time in Los Angeles where they were both living. The women’s movement - which was in full swing - had brought Nin to prominence after many decades of living in the shadows of male writers like Henry Miller (1891-1980) and Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990), both of whom she had befriended and supported.
At the time that Chicago and Nin met, Chicago had initiated the Feminist art program at California State University, Fresno, an unprecedented undertaking that offered studio art education tailored to women’s needs. Nin had read an essay that Chicago had written in a feminist newspaper devoted to the program and invited her to visit. The two bonded over a mutual interest in the idea of a female-centered aesthetic, one that foregrounded women’s experiences.
It was Nin who first suggested that Chicago had a talent for writing, prompting the artist to pen Through the Flower: My Struggle as a Woman Artist, published in 1975 with an Introduction by Nin. This first volume of Chicago’s autobiography was subsequently published in England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Japan and China, bringing her art and perspective to readers all over the world. Eventually, Chicago would publish twelve books, including Fragments from the Delta of Venus which was based upon Nin’s erotic writings and intended as a tribute to Chicago’s former mentor.
Although most of Chicago’s books are devoted to her own life and work, she co-authored two art historical books, the first, Women and Art: Contested Territory, written with British art historian Edward Lucie Smith, compared images of women by both male and female artists, pointing out an often differing perspective towards the female body. More recently, she and Frances Borzello, another British art historian, wrote Frida Kahlo: Face to Face, a groundbreaking book that examined Kahlo’s overall body of art, something that doesn’t often happen with women artists.
Moreover, they approached her work without constantly referring to her relationship with Diego Rivera. Too often, women artists are viewed through the lens of biography rather than through an appropriate critical lens, which is what Chicago and Borzello attempt to do, arguing persuasively that Kahlo’s work pre-figured the Feminist art movement in that it opened up hitherto unexamined areas of subject matter.