Sisters Of Survival (S.O.S.) was an anti-nuclear performance art group founded in 1981 by Jerri Allyn, Nancy Angelo, Anne Gauldin, Cheri Gaulke and Sue Maberry.

S.O.S. was a group of feminist artists who used the nun image symbolically. They were indeed a sisterhood ordered around nuclear disarmament and world peace. Focusing on anti-nuclear issues, S.O.S. initiated End of the Rainbow, a three-part project including a European tour in Spring 1983. S.O.S. also produced a media performance (Shovel Defense), an artists’ book (Sisters Of Survival’s Memento Mori), a billboard (Something is Clouding Your Future), and other theatrical and participatory performances.

The Woman’s Building was a feminist art center from which many individual artists and collaborative performance art groups emerged. It existed from 1973 to 1991 in Los Angeles.

In the early 1980s, there was a creeping atmosphere of despair around the nuclear threat. We were a group of feminist artists who had previously collaborated as members of performance art groups The Waitresses and Feminist Art Workers. We decided to form a new collaborative group to address the nuclear issue and take our activist art to Europe. But we had not yet found an identity for ourselves until Nancy Angelo came to a meeting and shared a dream she had in which nuns, wearing habits in the colors of the rainbow, walked along a cloistered courtyard path in a convent setting in early Renaissance Italy. It was a beautiful and peaceful image made remarkable by the colors. We had found our identity. We would call ourselves Sisters Of Survival and our acronym S.O.S. would call out a cry of distress for the earth.

We wore colored habits whenever we performed and made extra habits for guest performers who occasionally joined us. Even men sometimes wore a habit as in our Twist for Life Habit performance as part of the march in New York for the United Nations Second Special Session on Nuclear Disarmament (1982?). Working in the anti-nuclear movement we encountered real Catholic nuns and we were concerned they might be offended. What bothered them if anything was the fact that they were trying to get away from the stereotype of the veiled nun.

People often asked us why we dressed like nuns. For us it was the perfect metaphor for our work. Here’s how we put it in 1981 on our brochure:

Sisters Of Survival is not an order of Catholic nuns. Rather, we are a group of feminist performance artists who use the nun image symbolically, clothing ourselves in the colors of the rainbow. We are indeed a sisterhood. We share a common world view. As artists working collaboratively, we seek to find the order in apparent chaos. Our work is strongly informed by values of community. We extend our work to audiences in such a way that the spectrum of people’s different backgrounds and points of view can be recognized, even celebrated. Yet through the performance, we are all gathered in the strength of what we share.

Inspired by the visibility of anti-nuclear war demonstrations in Europe, we have initiated a three-part project entitled End of the Rainbow. With a similar movement rising quickly in the United States we feel it to be crucial to open the exchange between artists in both North America and Western Europe about nuclear issues. As artists we are in a position to generate cultural forms that significantly impact public awareness. Through artmaking we can give voice and visibility to grassroots concerns that differ from government policy. We also bring to this project our particular experiences and perspectives as women. Traditionally, women have been the creators and nurturers of human life, yet also, the world of public policy has not been informed by our values. We feel that it is now crucial for women everywhere to be active in reversing the destructive direction towards war and insist on the generation of peaceful interactions worldwide. It is in the spirit of creating a North America-Western European women’s and artists’ community committed to disarmament that we ask you to take part in this project with us.



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