As a radical feminist artist working in drawing, sculpture, performance, photography and video, Wilke’s practice challenged dialogues around art and gender. Emerging in the 1960s, in the midst of the women’s liberation movement in the United States, the deeply personal compositions Wilke generated across her career aimed to question prevailing cultural notions about women and female sexuality. The artist’s conceptual works were often intimately bound to her own body, which she used as a tool for exploring issues that related to her experiences as a Jewish American woman.
Wilke sought to make ‘specifically female’ forms and images and launched her career with a series of her signature vaginal ceramic sculptures in the early 1960’s which varied in terms of size or colour and in their very form. Some function on a purely figurative level, while others suggested ambiguous sexuality. Wilke went on to create these intimately sized objects in clay, ceramic and porcelain across the next two decades.
By the start of the 1970s, she was producing her one-fold sculptures, as well as large-scale latex wall sculptures. In the 1980s, she experimented with Minimalist grid formats and incorporated patterned painted surfaces in vivid hues into her ceramics. Wilke also made pioneering usage of materials including latex and chewing gum, which were unusual at the time.