The deliberately forgotten female artists in the history of arts
Sadly, the world of arts makes no exception when it comes to respecting women’s rights. Indeed, history shows that female artists were consistently airbrushed from the world of arts, and this is still happening even nowadays world widely but in some countries more than in others. Movements to protest against this situation are blooming, female artists are using their talent to point out at gender discrimination in the field of arts. Other female artists are using their arts to denounce day to day discrimination against women and picture the straitjacket in which our outdated patriarchal society still keeps women in.
Female artists have always been overshadowed by their male counterparts. Their contributions to the world have completely been written out of art history books, giving the skewed perception that only men were artists, and men only were talented enough to be known. Plautilla Nelli may be an unknown name to your ears, yet she was the first-known female Renaissance painter of Florence in the 16th century. Her works are masterpieces that fell into oblivion and were ignored for 500 years.
This unbalanced and unfair situation between male and female artists is still occurring, even nowadays. Female artists’ work counts for much less in gallery exhibitions and museums than male artists’ work. Their work is still difficult to find in galleries and museums, and are almost completely absent in countries with extreme male dominancy. Women are instead often object of the art, but not the subject or the author. However, the art world seems to be on the edge of important changes. For decades now, female artists have been fighting for a better recognition of their work, and we are barely beginning to acknowledge their contribution to the arts.
For other female artists, their talent is a weapon to fight against patriarchy, to break taboos, address inequalities and send a message for political and societal changes.
Rebellious female artists fighting against patriarchy in their master piece
A feminist art movement exists since the 1960s and aims at expressing women’s lives and experiences through art pieces. This movement was born following the women’s liberation movement that took place in western countries in the 1960s and aims at shining a light on women’s artists and art in art history and art practice. Some female artists are famous for their art and for their commitment to shift the situation.
Today, feminist art is more global and multicultural. Indeed, in modern days, there are more and more women from every corner of the world that are using their talent to denounce a world that continues to treat women inferiorly. From the United States of America to Afghanistan, women are voicing their discontentment in paintings, drawings, graffiti, songs, poems, dance, books, films, and in any other type of art form. They are breaking the rules.
In the 1960s, in Latin American countries, whereas most societies were dominated by dictatorships and authoritarian regimes that reinforced gender stereotypes and the inferior role of women in the society, many female artists introduced a shift in representation of the female form in their art work while questioning patriarchal structures. In Mexico, in 1983, Mayer and Bustamante started the first feminist art collective called Polvo de Gallina Negra (“Black Hen Powder”). For 10 years, they questioned the role of women in Mexican society, their image in mass media, and the impact of machismo in their experimental and subversive works. In Indonesia, a hijab-wearing Muslim metal group challenges stereotypes. Afghan artist Shamsia Hassani gives Afghan women a voice despite the danger she faces for venturing in the streets of Afghanistan to create murals to beautify her war-torn country and give a voice to women. In Cambodia, female artist Oeur Sokuntevy confronts gender roles and the traditional representation of women that is described in the Chbab Srey (Code of conduct for women) with contemporary art pieces. Emma, a French artist, nails in a series of comic books the struggle of motherhood and the mental load. In Yemen, a country under relentless bombing attacks from Saudi Arabia and its allies, Saba Jallas turns photos of war into images of peace. She is calling attention to the women and children who are suffering from the war transforming photographs of smoke resulting from airstrike or bombings into works of art.
Female artists contribute to a great extent to empower other women, to challenge gender discrimination, to denounce violence against women and finally their art pieces are a powerful means to reshape our society’s mindset. By its very nature, art can attract people’s attention on certain social issues and convey crucial social messages, or at the very least, it invites people to reflect and challenge their opinions. Art is not only the expression of one’s creative skills and imagination but also, it is a magnificent tool to declare, disseminate, and communicate. Art touches people’s heart and invites people to reflect and debate. Art goes beyond borders or words and that is the reason why it has been a powerful political tool for most of history. Art has always been used for indoctrination and propaganda purposes in the history of politics, yet it has also been used, and is used even more nowadays, as a tool to break stereotypes, inequalities and discrimination by people who are both artists and activists.
Art for women’s empowerment
Art can be a source of empowerment for female artists and a source of inspiration for the public. In many examples across the world, art is used to disseminate information and prevent people from social issues and about women’s issues. International Organizations, NGOs, advocates, government, activist artists often use art to convey important messages on topics such as HIV, domestic violence, child marriage or gender discrimination.
While conducting interviews of women in Cambodia, we met Sinath who works for the organization Phare Ponleu Selpak, a non-profit Cambodian association improving the lives of children, young adults, and their families with art schools, educational programs, and social support since 1994, and she told us that she “believes arts can change the world and bring about social changes”.
In Thailand, we got in contact with the organization Art Relief International who works to transform the lives of struggling social groups in Chiang Mai, Thailand, by offering them the opportunity to express themselves through an artistic lens. Art Relief International strongly believes that art changes lives as it is both a powerful means of expression and a recognized means of therapy. The organization targets different focus groups including, but not limited to, vulnerable women from refugee communities, ethnic minority, single mother and disabled women.
Thanks to their cooperation, we had the opportunity to meet Anna, a young female artist suffering from mental disability with a true passion for art. We visited Art Relief International partnering organization, the Healing Family Foundation, where adults with varying physical and mental disabilities spend time weaving in order to earn an income while being part of a community that understands them and accepts them the way they are.
We met Anna, a joyful, yet a bit shy, endearing woman who in spite of her mental disabilities could speak very well English and shared with us a bit of her story. Anna is 40 years old and has been part of the Healing Family for 12 years. We had a small chat with her and she told us how much she loved art and how much it has helped her to find a purpose in life and a community where she belongs.
“I’ve been coming here for 12 years. Before I was drawing at home, I was staying at home. I always liked to draw and sing, I always wanted to be an artist. I wanted to do design. Drawing, singing, weaving, makes me happy, and I made friends here”.
Art is a great source of expression and inspiration, for all.
Al Jazeera – Afghan graffiti artist strives to beautify Kabul – Août 2015 – http://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2015/08/afghan-graffiti-artist-strives-beautify-kabul-150826090658859.html
UNESCO – The Courage to Create: Artists take action for a Gender Equal World – 2017- https://en.unesco.org/creativity/news/courage-create-artists-take-action-gender-equal-world
The Guardian – How the art world airbrushed female artists from history – Février 2017- https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/feb/06/how-the-art-world-airbrushed-female-artists-from-history
The Guardian – New Renaissance: how Florence is freeing its great female artists – Décembre 2017 – https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/dec/22/new-renaissance-how-florence-is-freeing-its-great-female-artists-plautilla-nelli
Reuters – Indonesia’s hijab-wearing Muslim metal group challenges stereotypes – Mai 2017 – https://www.reuters.com/article/us-religion-indonesia-hijab-band-idUSKBN18P17G
Los Angeles Times – See how graffiti artist Shamsia Hassani is giving Afghan women a voice despite the danger – Mars 2016 – http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/museums/la-et-cm-afghan-graffiti-artist-shamsia-hassani-20160301-html-snap-htmlstory.html
Blog Emma – Politique, trucs pour réfléchir et intermèdes ludiques – https://english.emmaclit.com/2017/05/20/you-shouldve-asked/
The Arab Weekly – Fighting gender based violence through art – Janvier 2018 –https://thearabweekly.com/fighting-gender-based-violence-through-art
Al Jazeera – Arab women artists and their long road to expression – Mars 2016 –http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/03/arab-women-artists-long-road-expression-160317071732279.html
Artsy – The Latin American Women Artists Who Fought Patriarchy with Their Bodies – Septembre 2017 https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-latin-american-women-artists-fought-patriarchy-bodies
Women’s Center – The Waves of Feminist Art – Avril 2017 –https://uiwomenscenter.wordpress.com/2017/04/01/the-waves-of-feminist-art/
The Culture Trip – Cambodian Females Artists Confront Gender Roles with Contemporary Art – Novembre 2016 – https://theculturetrip.com/asia/cambodia/articles/cambodia-s-female-artists-how-contemporary-art-is-changing-gender-roles-in-cambodia/
Website Shamsia Hassani – http://www.shamsiahassani.com/