Nancy Spero

Video Retrospective


This anthology represents the work Irene Sosa has done documenting the art of Nancy Spero over the past 15 years. The filmmaker met Nancy Spero in the winter of 1988 while working at the studio the artist shared with her long-time companion and fellow artist Leon Golub in New York’s West Village.

At the time Sosa was finishing her MFA at NYU’s film school. She asked the artist for permission to shoot some video footage of her at work. The film student documented Nancy Spero’s retrospective at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, as well as a class Spero gave a group of students from Hobart & William Smith College who came to see the show. Spero liked the footage and thus began a relationship between the video maker and the artist that continues to this day. This marked also the beginning of Sosa’s work on Woman as Protagonist: The Art of Nancy Spero, a feature documentary she completed in 1993.

Woman as Protagonist took artist and video maker on a journey through Spero’s life: from her years as an art student in Chicago’s Art Institute, her life in Paris, through her anti Vietnam War work, and her mural work of the late 1980s and 1990s. As part of the research for this documentary, Sosa shot the artist at work in projects in Smith College in Massachusetts; Madrid, Spain; and in Derry, Northern Ireland.  The piece took 5 years in the making, and involved a lot of biographical and archival research; and many hours of shooting photographs, paintings, and other material. It was beautifully edited by Lise Engel who captured the rhythm of the artist’s work; and includes music composed especially for the piece by Betsy McClelland.

While working on the feature documentary, from 1989-1993, Sosa edited and finished several small video pieces on specific installation projects that were later included in Woman as Protagonist. Among these are: Nancy Spero in Derry, Northern Ireland; Minerva, Sky Goddess, Madrid; and To Soar II, Nancy Spero in the Smith College Museum of Art. Minerva, Sky Goddess was edited as it was being shot, so that it could later be used at the opening of Spero’s installation at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, Spain.

In the Derry piece, Sosa’s camera travels from the images on the wall; to the armed soldiers and armored vehicles going through the streets of Derry; to the lively, and at times heated, debate between the artists and a group of young women on the issues of the artists responsibility towards the community and themselves. The Derry piece was shown at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York concurrently with a show by Spero at that institution.

The Smith College work is the first of the installations pieces Sosa worked on. The short documentary captures the excitement created by the artwork and the artist during its installation. It was shown as part of the show itself, and was made specifically with that in mind. It also gave the video maker the opportunity to shoot Notes in Time on Women, and important piece on paper that proved to be a challenge for Sosa as it involved panels spanning 210 feet.

Woman as Protagonist was finished in 1993 and opened that same year in South Carolina as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of the birth of the Emrys Foundation, the institution that helped to finance the piece. In New York, it premiered at Exit Art, and has been shown in several other venues. It’s main distribution, however, has been through colleges and art institutions. It is included in the video collections of: the Hiroshima Museum of Modern Art, Hiroshima, Japan; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France;

Internationale Sommerakademie Fu Bildende Kunst, Salzburg, Germany; Harvard University Art Museums, Boston, Mass; Museum of Modern Art, Education Department, NYC; Greenville Museum of Modern Art, Greenville, SC, among others. Woman as Protagonist and Artemis, Acrobats, Divas, and Dancers will be included in a DVD on Leon Golub produced by Kartemquin films.

After finishing Woman as Protagonist, Sosa continued to document Spero’s work. In 1993 she documented the two pieces that Spero made for the Whitney Biennial, Masha Bruskina, and Homage to Ana Mendieta. In 1994 she was commissioned by the American Center in Paris, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s List Visual Arts Center to produce a documentary on a joint exhibit in Paris by the artist and the late Leon Golub titled War and Memory. The piece, by the same name, was edited by Lise Engel within a month of its shooting as it opened with the show in Paris in the fall of that year. This 27-minute documentary captures the close relationship between Spero and Golub both as artists as well as their life-long companions. The closeness between filmmaker and artist comes through in this documentary as the camera shares in the intimacy between these two famous artists who for a moment become a flirtatious couple in love.

In 1998 the Festspielhaus Hellerau, in Dresden, Germany; and the Cairo Biennale, in Cairo, Egypt invited Sosa to document Spero’s installations at those two venues. The edited versions of these pieces are a departure from the other documentaries as they represent more of a memento of the artists experience in these two cities. In the Dresden piece, for example, one hears the live music that was played during the opening of the installation in this very dramatic setting. The Cairo video includes footage of the Egyptian countryside as the artist walks though some of the ancient landscape and ruins.

The most recent piece, Artemis, Acrobats, Divas and Dancers, documents the artist’s mosaic installation in the 67th Street subway station at Lincoln Center.

Working on these documentaries, allowed Irene Sosa to continue her exploration of artists and the creative process begun in her native Venezuela, where as a journalist student she photographed both visual and performing artists at work. Her fascination with this process has also led her to collaborate with installation artist Pepón Osorio, photographer Susan Unterberg, and choreographer Merian Soto (Still working with her, we are premiering a piece called The Time Machine in Dance Theater Workshop in October of this year) among others.

The Sosa’s other work includes, Sexual Exiles, a documentary she finished in 1999 about the impossibility of returning home for lesbians and gays once they have "come out" while living in exile.  It explores both the reasons they have left their homes as well as their complex experiences while living in exile. This piece has been shown in more than 30 venues around the world. Sosa is working on a documentary Shopping to Belong, on the relationship between shopping and the sense of belonging among Latino immigrants in the U.S. She is also working on a series of short experimental pieces on the war and the media. One of these has been shown at the Ethical Culture Society in Brooklyn, Brunswick Windows art space in New Jersey.

An associate professor at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Sosa was recently honored with a prestigious Fulbright Award which in February 2005 will take her to her native Venezuela do to research and teach for a semester at her alma matter the Universidad Central de Venezuela.


To download the PDF of this text


American Center Paris, France 1994

About Irene Sosa



Nancy Spero 
Video Anthology

Short Videos

Sexual Exiles


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