Experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer, who is revered as one of the pioneers of lesbian cinema, died on Saturday, March 17, at the age of 79. According to ARTnews the cause of death was ovarian cancer, which Hammer was diagnosed with in 2006.
In recent years she had become a right-to-die advocate, being vocal about her request for “a dignified death” which she addressed in her 2018 performance “The Art of Dying or (Palliative Art Making in the Age of Anxiety)” at the Whitney Museum in New York.
Hammer was born on May 15, 1939 in Hollywood, California. She directed more than 75 shorts and feature films over the course of her 40-year career, which began with 1968’s Schizy. Her first feature was 1992’s Nitrate Kisses, which IndieWire named one of the 100 best films directed by women.
In 2017 the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York showcased a retrospective of Hammer’s work. “A self-identified badass, Barbara Hammer was a force of nature to be reckoned with. Over the span of her 40-plus-year career, her uncompromising work brought visibility to lesbian and gender issues, aging, and the female body,” said Gonzalo Casals, the museum’s executive director.
That same year Hammer’s archives were acquired by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, and with the money she received from Yale she founded the Barbara Hammer Lesbian Experimental Filmmaking Grant. According to ARTnews, the annual $5,000 grant was awarded to Fair Brane in 2017 and Miatta Kawinzi in 2018.
“It has been the goal of my life to put a lesbian lifestyle on the screen. Why? Because when I started I couldn’t find any!” Hammer said in a statement. “Working as a lesbian filmmaker in the ’70s wasn’t easy in the social structure… and I want this grant to make it easier for lesbians of today.”
Hammer is survived by her spouse of thirty-one years, human rights activist Florrie Burke.