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Drawing BreathLynn Hershman Leeson

April 21, 2021

One of four new films from Art21’s spring 2021 programming

Recalling her formative years as an artist in the 1960s and 1970s, Lynn Hershman Leeson recounts the suppression of her literal and figurative voice that continues to motivate her work today. Shown at work in her San Francisco, California studio, Hershman Leeson describes her drawing practice as a meditation and a basic language that plays a role in all her projects. “It’s all about collaging,” says the artist of her work.

In 1965, Hershman Leeson suffered a near-fatal complication during her pregnancy. The experience inspired her to record and incorporate audio of her breath into wax sculptures cast from her own face. “To me, it was like a drawing,” explains Hershman Leeson. “It was sound that extended into space.”

When the wax sculptures were exhibited in the 1970s, they were denounced by an exhibiting museum for “not being art.” Indicative of the struggles of many female artists at the time, this rejection by the museum system ultimately fueled Hershman Leeson and shaped her work. “The cultural experience of having your voice suppressed has made speech and talking and having a voice really important in what I do,” states the artist. “A lot of what I do as being an artist is creating a voice for myself because I didn’t have one for so long.”

This film is among a collection that comprise Art21’s participation in the multi-institutional Feminist Art Coalition initiative. Feminist Art Coalition (FAC) is a platform for art projects informed by feminisms, fostering collaborations between arts institutions that aim to make public their commitment to social justice and structural change.

More information and credits


Extended Play Series Producer: Ian Forster. Director: Ian Forster and Christine Turner. Editor: Morgan Riles. Field Producer: Laura Wagner. Camera: Ethan Indorf and Tyler McPherron. Sound: Kevin Crawford. Production Assistant: Trinity West. Colorist: Jonah Greenstein. Artwork Courtesy: Lynn Hershman Leeson, Bridget Donahue, and Yerba Buena Center For The Arts.

Extended Play is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts; and, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; Dawn and Chris Fleischner; the Art21 Contemporary Council; and by individual contributors.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Interested in showing this film in an exhibition or public screening? To license this video please visit Licensing & Reproduction.

Lynn Hershman Leeson

Lynn Hershman Leeson was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1941. At once a pointed critic and a sly practical jokester, Hershman Leeson has worked across a wide range of mediums, from drawing, painting and sculpture to interactive films, net-based media works, and artificial intelligence. Overlooked for the better part of her decades-long career, Hershman Leeson is a pioneering multidisciplinary artist, critiquing the deep seated gender biases that have excluded her and other women artists.

“A lot of what I do as being an artist is creating a voice for myself because I didn’t have one for so long.”

Lynn Hershman Leeson


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