Member Spotlight l Gloria Feman Orenstein

This week we recognize Gloria Feman Orenstein.

Orenstein is a feminist art critic, discoverer of the women of Surrealism, and a scholar of ecofeminism in the arts. Her book Reweaving the World (1990) is considered a seminal ecofeminist text which has played a crucial role in the development of U.S. ecofeminism as a political position. Essays include leading ecofeministscholars, poets, novelists, scientists, ecological activists, and spiritual teachers (Starhawk, Vananda Shiva), who envision a restoration of harmony in a global environment damaged by a devaluation of nature and women. Many of the essays were first presented at the conference “Ecofeminism: culture, nature and theory,” held at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in March 1987. click image below

Reweaving the World, co-edited by Orenstein, posits an ecofeminist movement that brings together “the environmental, feminist, and women’s spirituality movements out of a shared concern for the well-being of the Earth and all forms of life that our Earth supports.” In the book, Orenstein described “’ecofeminist arts’ function [as] ceremonially to connect us with the two powerful worlds from which the Enlightenment severed us—nature and the spirit world.” She suggested such arts often invoked the symbol of the Great Mother (Goddess) to emphasize three levels of creation “imaged as female outside patriarchy: cosmic creation, procreation, and artistic creation.”

While a graduate student at New York University, Orenstein wrote her dissertation on Surrealism in France and Latin America after WWII.

“Someone suggested I write to Leonora, and we corresponded almost daily. Nothing had been written about her in the early 70’s so she sent me reproductions of her visual art. I was astounded by the beauty of her art and decided to include her in my dissertation. I would have to go to Mexico to speak with her in person, but had no money for travel. I decided to purchase a Mexican dress, hoping the vibes would enter my brain and enlighten me about the meaning of her cryptic, but absolutely incredible imagery. One day, just as I had asked the cosmos to send me an answer, the telephone rang and a most distinctive English accent spoke: “This is Leonora Carrington. I have just arrived in New York and I would like to meet you.”

“We met that night and remained dear friends for the rest of her life (Carrington died in 2011). In New York I took her to a meeting of OWL (Older Women’s Liberation) and we met with Betty Friedan, Jacqui Ceballos and Irma Diamond. Leonora wanted to start a branch of NOW in Mexico City. She was sailing for France in a few days and wanted me to go with her. Thanks to my brother I was able to make the trip by plane.”

“The time I spent with Leonora opened my eyes to the Celtic roots of her literary and artistic vision. I was able to spend six weeks as her guest in Mexico the following summer. It was a most extraordinary entrée to her world. She saw the traces of the ancestors at the archeological sites we visited. It was the dream trip of a lifetime.” click images above and below

In 1987, following the Ecofeminism conference, Orenstein was invited by a Shaman of Samiland (Lapland, N. Norway), Ellen Marit Gaup Dunfjeld, to be a student with her in Alta, Norway, an experience that continued intermittently for almost five years.

“The shaman was exquisitely beautiful in her native costume with jangling fringes. She began to sing a yoik, a chant that calls in the spirits of deceased ancestors. As she sang, we were literally transported to the ancient times of humanity’s origins. During this meeting the shaman informed me I had to make a trip to Samiland because “The Great Spirit has called you, Gloria and you have to come to meet the Great Spirit.”Orenstein then writes an essay “Toward an ecofeminist ethic of Shamanism and the sacred,” included in the book Ecofeminism and the Sacred, published in 1993. In 2022, she’s invited to participate in the virtual Meetings on Art for

the 59th Venice Biennale to explore the interconnections between Leonora Carrington and Sami Noaidis (shamans), proposing that Indigenous Sami epistemology might serve as a generative alternative to Western anthrocentrism. click image below

Gloria Feman Orenstein received a B.A. in Romance Languages and Literature from Brandeis University in 1959 and an M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literature from Radcliffe Graduate School of Harvard University in 1961. She studied in abroad in 1957 and 1958 completing courses at both the Sorbonne, University of Paris and Ecole du Louvre. Orenstein began her teaching career in 1963, when she accepted a position teaching High school French in Lexington, MA. She returned to New York University to continue her education, completing a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature in 1971. From 1975 to 1981 she was faculty of Rutgers University where she also served as the chair of the Women’s Studies Program from 1976 to 1978. She was hired as Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California in 1981 where she taught until she retired. She is a professor emerita of the University of Southern California. She received a Lifetime Achievement award from the Women’s Caucus for Art in February 2018 in Los Angeles, California.

Featured Images: All images are snapshots taken from the award-winning short film Gloria’s Call directed by Cheri Gaulke. 

Click image of Orenstein below to watch Gloria’s Call, which premiered in Los Angeles, October 2018. The film was born in 2016 during a presentation by Orenstein at the Southern California Women’s Caucus for Art (SCWCA), Surrealist Tea. (16:45 mins)

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ecoartspace was conceived in 1997 by Patricia Watts in Los Angeles. In 1999, Watts partnered with east coast curator Amy Lipton, operating as a nonprofit under the umbrella of SEE, the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in California. 2019 marked twenty years that Watts and Lipton have curated art and ecology programs, participating on panels and giving lectures internationally. Combined, they have curated over sixty art and ecology exhibitions, many outdoors in collaboration with artists creating site-specific works. They have worked with over one thousand artists from across the United States, and some internationally. Starting 2020, ecoartspace became an LLC membership organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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