Maria Buszek is rewriting punk history
REPRESENTING FORGOTTEN WOMEN
Maria Elena Buszek certainly looks like an art historian, adorned with her clear-rimmed, cat eye glasses. Yet hidden underneath her protective veneer of academia, Buszek harbors a vivacious desire to stick it to the man—well, to be accurate, men. A self-described feminist since the age of nine, Buszek has spent most of her career as an art history scholar challenging the limitations set in her field. As a graduate student, Buszek had always wanted to write about contemporary art, but her advisors told her that contemporary art reception was antithetical to art history, a dichotomy that still doesn’t hold up to Buszek.
But visual art hasn’t been the only art form that has enthralled Buszek. Since high school, she has held a deep interest in music, mostly alternative. She worked in record stores and interned at radio stations, hoarding vinyl like most fervent punk fans. From the early days of Riot Grrrl to Kathleen Hanna’s (of Bikini Kill) current musical project, Le Tigre, Buszek has given a lot of thought to these topics; but deliberating and musing about women in art and music isn’t all Buszek has done. She has written about important women, too.
Buszek turned her graduate dissertation into her first published book: Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture. “Pin-up girl, the iconography, represented how uncomfortable the art world felt about pop culture, how feminism felt about pop culture, how feminism felt about sexuality,” Buszek said. She decided that because her advisors held so much resistance toward her analyzing contemporary art, Buszek would focus on the reasons behind this resistance.
After publishing a second book in 2011, Buszek decided to return to her love of music by undertaking an arduous yet important task—writing the history of punk, but making sure to include the voices of those who have been cast aside in the narratives of bands like The Clash.
According to Buszek, women, people of color, and queer people have been systematically erased from the history of punk, and she wants to change that. “It was a moment where two big exhibitions happened,” Buszek said. “One of them was a travelling exhibition called Sympathy For the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967, and a show in London called Panic Attack: Art in the Punk Years. And I was thinking to myself, ‘of course these are going to be really heavy on women artists and queer artists and artists of color;’ and, well, needless to say, they were not.” Buszek described how this was the inspiration behind her newest book. “I’m asking whether this problem of the disappearing of women artists and queer artists—in a way, really, activist artists—from this suddenly very white, male trajectory was because art historians had such trouble talking about pop culture,” Buszek said.
Buszek combines her passions of challenging the set ways of institutions, feminism, and music in her research. As Buszek explained, she undertook this project because, “this history is being written right now, and I wanted to get in and make sure the story is told fully.”