The meaning behind Dior's feminist 'Why have there been no great women artists?' T-shirt

"We should all be feminists," this is not.

Last September, Dior sent a T-shirt down the runway printed with that phrase, part of Maria Grazia Chiuri's first collection for the French fashion house. "We should all be feminists" was borrowed from the title of a book by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, adapted from the much-admired TEDx talk of the same name.

Before its Paris Fashion Week show on Tuesday, Dior promised a presentation in which "the validity of women's artistic voices is powerfully proved." On the runway, Chiuri debuted a statement tee printed with "Why have there been no great women?" with the quote also included in the show's notes. And while Chiuri's new design may include another explicitly feminist statement, this time, the messaging is more subversive. 

Just as last year's shirt quoted Adichie, "Why have there been no great women artists?" is the title of a groundbreaking 1971 article from the feminist art scholar Linda Nochlin. The article, led with its tongue-in-cheek title, illuminated the institutional barriers against women in art, helping to transform Nochlin's discipline of art history.

As Nochlin explained in a 2015 interview, the title of the article was partially inspired by a conversation she had with a male art dealer.

"Afterwards, (he) turned to me and said, 'Linda, I would love to show women artists, but I can’t find any good ones. Why are there no great women artists?'" she said. "He actually asked me that question...It made me think, because, first of all, it implied that there were no great women artists. Second, because it assumed this was a natural condition. It just lit up my mind."

If last year's "We should all be feminists" shirt provided some feel-good messaging amid a turbulent election, the kind of quote of which Hillary Clinton would approve, this year's version reads as downright revolutionary. Chiuri's design, which is sure to attract renewed attention to Nochlin's work, is the statement tee the Trump era needs, cutting and subversive, with a message that rings as true today as it did in the '70s.

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