Throughout the whole history of humanity, women have been creating art, working with different art mediums and being innovators of the new forms of artistic expression. All through the centuries they have been the creators, muses, sources of inspiration, critics, art historians and collectors. Women have always been essential to the Institution of Art. However, despite the above, many women artists have found opposition in the traditional narrative of art history, constantly having to deal with challenges based on gender biases. 

According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 51% of visual artists today are women. Although, when it comes to exhibitions and gallery representation, the numbers are different. For example, in London there are 134 galleries which represent 3163 artists, and within them only 31% of the represented artists are women. 78% of the galleries represent more men than women, 17% of the galleries represent more women than men and only 5% represent an equal number of male and female artists.

Female artists have been systematically excluded from the records of art history. They were withheld from obtaining general education, let alone arts training. Despite the fact that there have always been women artists, it was always men who wrote art history books often just forgetting to mention women. Hans Hoffmann, a known artist and instructor, once made a “compliment” to one of the greatest and very influential abstract expressionist painter Lee Krasner in the mid-20th century saying: “This is so good you wouldn’t know it was done by a woman.”

Briefly going through the art history, during the Renaissance it was thought to be desirable for women to be accomplished in the arts, therefore they were encouraged to practice painting. Until the 18th century women could actually paint whatever they wanted as long as it represented feminine traits and their paintings were beautiful, gracious and modest. 

Here are some examples of the exclusion of female artist from the global art landscape and the examples of a few stories of how women tackled those challenges. The work of Judith Leyster, 17th century artist, has a similar style as the Dutch master Frans Hals, who worked at the same time with her. She was an acknowledged artist during her lifetime but because she was a woman, after her death her name was barely mentioned. Art historians only started mentioning her again after it was discovered that seven of her paintings have been mistakenly attributed to Frans Hals. Some female artists adopted male names, like Claude Cahun and Grace Hartigan, who signed her works ‘George.’ French painter Francoise Gilot forged a unique artistic identity, visual aesthetics and style despite being known mainly as Pablo Picasso’s lover and working in close juxtaposition to significant painters such as Henri Matisse and Fernand LégerSurrealist women painters and sculptors like Eileen Agar and Louise Bourgeois have become major figures is the art pursuing their explorations of mind and body, elaborating fluid, intimate, and openly sexual subject matter. To avoid misrepresentation, some female artists just used their initials. Some female artists were working as models to support their artistic career and learn from their male contemporaries.

Via tate.org | Angel of Anarchy 1936–40 © The estate of Eileen Agar 

Many female artists were using the power of their artistic expression in order to speak about particular issues that they face as women. Artists such as Margaret Harrison, in the 1970s, used playful and ironic drawings to point out the objectification women faced in their day-to-day lives. Within the same decade, Linder dwelled on the philosophies of punk and the anti-establishment politics of Dada to create photographic collages that subverted traditional media images into unsettling statements. Filmmaker Barbara Hammer worked with the footage of her own body in order to provide more open depictions of lesbian sexuality. 

In the beginning of the 1960s, the feminist movements have emerged, which has resulted in growing numbers of women teaching and studying in art schools across the United States and Europe. Those institutions have become sites of feminist activity, encouraging the representation of women in museums and galleries. In the beginning of the 20th century, the shift has occurred not only within the circles of female artists but also within the domestic and public spheres. The male-dominated global social structure was transformed by the new generation of female artists and professionals. Paving the way for many women artists practicing nowadays, this movement has launched the spread of a large body of theory and diverse range of artistic practices.

At The Platform Gallery we are celebrating and representing the work of 10 Trailblazing Women Artists such as:

Azadeh Ardalan, whose “interest in literature and cinema makes her imagination stronger to create various scenes in painting”. 

Mariella Bilitsa, who is “captivating characters and eccentric delivery”.

Anastasia Rydlevskaya, an artist from Belarus, whose visual language is very profound, sensual and multi-layered. 

Ukraine-born and London-based artist Olha Korovina, who is described “an acute observer of the reality we share, approaching communication and creation as a catalyst for human enlightening, balance and evoking the journey towards emotional exploration of the self as well as the collective contemporary paradigm”.

Rosie Beard, talented artist and illustrator. “Her work is characterful, playful and frequently erotic. It usually describes a fairy tale-like characters and figures from folklore. Playing around with pattern and hidden messages of gender identity and fluidity”.

Marina Barnes, an artist from Derby, United Kingdom. Her artistic style is rather sombre and very unique.

Ilona Zachaj, who is working with surrealist forms of expression, creating portraits and tainted illustrations filled with multidimensional narratives.

Reiterkunst or Evelina Reiter, Berlin-based artist “painting the impossible noise of my mind, the exaggerating rhythm of now, allowing myself to be part of it, feel its intensity and try to understand my state of mind and my body in this moment with all the feelings and surroundings”.

Raluca Bararu, temporarily residing in Bucharest, Romania. She sees herself “as a woman of few words and many ghosts, visual ghosts of course, and an illustrator with an insatiable appetite for aesthetic spookiness”.

An Italian artist Martina Amato, whose delivery is very raw and powerful.

Alex Morante, describing herself as a “monster-maker and self proclaimed “Cool Girl” from New Jersey”. Her work presents personal narrative in the guise of clowns and creatures like an unsettling combination of Hieronymus Bosch and a Taylor Swift song.

Considering all these names of women artists who are addressing their rights and identities, in their work and beyond, it is still believed that it would take a major shift in social perspective and public education, similar to the shift that is still needed to educate people that male and female subjects should not be treated any differently in art. This process will probably take a lot of time, effort and mistakes, however, this tendency towards the celebration and appreciation of women artists and their artistic statements is clearly a direction in which the art world is evolving. Nowadays, female artists from all over the world are showing us that there is no one “female art”. The art in its’ essence is shaped by the representations of the ideas of gender, reflections of different cultures, that convey ideas about beauty. Art has always been and will always be a powerful tool to question issues of race, gender, class and identity.

Text by olha.korovina

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