International Women’s Day – Celebrating Female Artists

On the 8th of March every year it is International Women’s Day.  I am female and consider myself really privileged as I live in a society where, while there are still disparities between men and women, it is nothing compared to other cultures in the world.   

This said, there are still huge worlds apart for many women across the globe in areas of work and pay, acknowledgements and accolades.  Female artists are still outweighed by male artists in most contemporary galleries.  We are very used to seeing the female form as the centrepiece but usually painted from the male perspective.

This year the HOFA (House of Fine Art) Gallery in London is dedicating the 8th of March to a group of 12 female artists, in an exhibition called “The Devine”.  The show will run until the 22nd of March, giving a two-week window for art lovers to view these pieces.

The twelve female participating artists are Ilhwa Kim (South Korean), Mary Roynane (Ireland), Loribelle Spirovski (Australia), Katya Zvereva (Russia), Laura Limbourg (Belgium), Romina Ressia (Argentina), Camille Hannah (Australia), Lucile Gauvain (France), Lise Stoufflet (France), Emmanuelle Rybojad (France), Wang Ziling (China) & Susana Anaya (Mexico).

You may wonder why female artists are so under represented in the art world, and you can read about that in my article here.  HOFA co-founder and curator Simonida Pavicevic says, “To understand why female artists remain underrepresented in major exhibitions, we must look to history. Scholars argue whether art historians should completely eradicate the Old Masters’ idea to pave the way for more research into female artists from the same time. Is there enough female representation to establish current artists in the future art historical canon? Most would say the answer is still no.”

She adds that “Representation of women artists in the art industry could easily change if females are given more exposure. To readdress history and the contemporary problem we must find a solution, and this is quite simple – we need to facilitate more female lead group and solo exhibitions actively.”

Pavicevic sums up, “We hope ‘The Divine’ will go some way to achieving this aim, by inviting these twelve hugely talented women to take centre stage at our new HOFA exhibition in March.”

HOFA Gallery has always strived to promote female artists equally, representing on average more than most global fine art galleries; this year, female artists will present alone over 50% of HOFA’s solo and groups shows. By contrast, a study of 3,050 galleries on the Artsy database found that 48% represent 25% or fewer women artists; 10% represent no women artists; only 8% represent more women than men (Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2019).

Highlights from the show will include Korean artist lhwa Kim’s White Portraits, some of her most iconic pieces. Kim’s mesmeric paper compositions have won her four- major awards including, ‘The Grand Art Prize’, ‘MANIF Seoul 1999 Excellence Award’ and ‘The 16th Grand Art Exhibition of Korea’. Australian artist Loribelle Spirovski’s critically acclaimed Homme series will also showcase in the exhibition. Her portraits compose of various abstracted elements which come together with highly sophisticated figurative forms. Russia artist Katya Zvereva’s Untitled (2020) will be on display and is one of her most monumental works, immersing the viewer and drawing them closer into the picture plane.

Homme 249 – Loribelle Spirovki (2020)

What I find most intriguing on this subject is, that you simply can’t look at a piece of art and decide if it was created by a male or a female, that is the beauty of art.  It may give you some insight to the artists thoughts and emotions, but without seeing the name of the artist, generally you wouldn’t know as it is not a gender based medium.  I as an art viewer would never intentionally not view something because it had been created by a woman over a man, or someone who is gender fluid/natural etc. It is just not something that enters my head when I look at a piece of art, as I am going to see things that inspire my creative brain. 

Through history, women’s artwork has been attributed to men, as it was not believed a woman could paint, they were also banned from art scholarships.  One of those women was Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1653).  Most notoriously her painting of “Susanna and the Elders” was attributed as her father, Orazio Gentileschi’s work until 1990.

Artemisia Gentileschi – Susanna and the Elders (1610).

The story of Susanna is that the beautiful Hebrew wife was bathing in a pool in her garden, she had sent her maids away so that she could bathe undisturbed.  Two elders, who parted ways earlier in the day, spot each other spying on Susanna.  They both realise that they lust after the same woman and stop her as she makes her way back to her house and demand to have sex with her.  Susanna refuses, so the two men have her arrested for having sex beneath a tree with a young man that was not her husband. 

Just as Susanna is about to be sentenced to death for adultery, Daniel stands up and requests that the Elders be questioned.  They are questioned separately and the statement about which tree she was under does not match.  The first elder says that she was under a mastic tree and the second says she was under an oak tree.  The difference in size of the tree determines that the story that the Elders give is false and Suzanne is let free, with the Elders being put to death instead.

I find it ironic that this painting was attributed to Gentileschi’s father considering the story which it is inspired from.

The keynote around this painting is that compared to others, Susanna’s face is more emotionally charged that those painted by men, as it feels that it has been painted from experience. Her body language is that of disgust rather than shock as she appears to be in the midst of pushing them away.

This is not the only case of female artists thought to be male, as it is a motif that happens time and again through history.  It is really now for us to break the stigmas of the past and look passed a person’s gender as to whether their work should be displayed or not.

If you would like more information on “The Devine” you can find it here.

If you would like more information about International Women’s Day, you can find it here.

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