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Mierle Laderman Ukeles

American, born 1939

Over the past four decades, Mierle Laderman Ukeles has dedicated herself to raising awareness of social justice issues in people's everyday lives. Based on her experience as a woman artist in the late 1960s and her increasing sense of injustice over the unacknowledged work that she and other women did to maintain the home, she wrote her "Manifesto for Maintenance Art," which she followed with a series of actions. Whether by ceremonially scrubbing a piece of New York City pavement or by drawing attention to the often-disregarded work of a museum's guards, Ukeles's Maintenance Art projects create indelible images of overlooked labor.

Alongside these projects, Ukeles is perhaps best known for the project featured in Overtime: The Art of Work. Since 1977, Ukeles has been the first and only artist in residence in the history of the New York City Department of Sanitation. This unpaid residency provides her with an office/studio where she creates artworks that connect the often overlooked role of maintenance work with the public sphere. Touch Sanitation Performance was her first project during her residence. It involved visiting all of the fifty-nine sanitation districts and shaking hands individually with each of the 8,500 employees. During the eleven months this project took to complete, Ukeles repeatedly expressed gratitude, speaking for the public as a whole by saying to each worker, "Thank you for keeping New York City alive."