What about the Women in art? Part 2.

Written by Georgina Russell – following on from What about the Women in Art posted in May 2019

According to Art Net News only 13.7% of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are female.

Let’s read that again.

Even if you round it up it sounds no better, only 14%! When I first read this figure I thought to myself this can’t be right, not with how far women have come over the last few decades? This is unfortunately the sad truth and just one of the many statistics exposing the gap in gender equality within art and society. Now this isn’t a new thing, women for decades (centuries even!) have been striving to uncover the reality of what being a woman in a gender biased world really is. For example, in 1985 the iconic collective group of feminist artists known as the ‘Guerrilla Girls’ asked the question “How many women had one-person exhibitions at NYC museums last year?” with the answer we all quietly expect; just one at MoMA and none at the Guggenheim, the Met, and the Whitney.

Judy Chicago ‘The Dinner Party Taught Me to Take Cooking and Eating Seriously’ – Image Credit – https://bitly.com/

As a current Fine Art University student, I can safely say that around 70-80% of my course is female, however, during the Art History section there is noticeably more men than women artists talked about (unless in the Feminist lecture!). I actually find this quite a frustrating issue to deal with, to actively have to ‘try’ and find women artists so that the lectures are more inclusive to an audience which is majority female is crazy! According to The Freelands Foundation, in the UK, 64% of undergraduates and 65% of postgraduates in creative arts and design are women, but 68% of the artists represented at top London commercial galleries are men. If you were to ask anyone to name any 5 artists throughout history, it is more than likely they would mostly be male e.g. Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Hockney, Matisse etc. And admittedly this isn’t anyone’s fault as women were, and still are, highly underrepresented in the art world, but it is something that we can and need to change. For instance, lets switch our top 5 artists up to Saville, O’Keefe, Sherman, Mitchell and Chicago as well as the thousands and thousands of other women artists who create every day. One particular piece of information that stopped me in my tracks was that from ArtNet News, in a table of the top selling male and female artists and their sales – ‘The top artist, Picasso, sold a staggering $6.2 billion worth of art…Andy Warhol came in second with $4.9 billion. Both, individually, sold more art than every single female artist in the database combined… a total of 5612 women.’ The more you realise how marginalised not just women artists are in general, but specifically women of colour, minority groups and the LGBTQIA+ community are, education and representation play a huge role.

One woman artist in particular that is paving the way with her unique artwork is Sarah Joy Ford. Her work is on display at Home MCR with her exhibition ‘Archives and Amazons’ on from Mon 17th May – Sun 11th July 2021 with her patchwork installation of 9 digitally printed silk scarves taking pride of place. Inspired by holiday scarves, Ford states how her series is called ‘Souvenirs from Lesbian Utopia’, with each one featuring a map of a different kind of lesbian utopias from the archive; ‘Lesvos’ ‘A women’s walk in Lambeth’ and ‘Lesbian Land’.

Image credit: Sarah Jay-Ford – https://www.instagram.com/p/CPF_tdMlo1a/ 

This new body of work was created after several years of research in the Lesbian Archive Collection at Glasgow Women’s Library. Ford explores the symbols and icons used throughout history, specifically the 20th-21st century, to show ‘lesbian strength, power and community’ including woven textile tales from Lesbos, the interlocking Venus and the labrys to the Amazon women.

To overcome these inequalities, there are many organisations that strive to actively encourage and support women in art, whether that be through education or donations. One of these amazing groups is ‘ArtGirlRising’ who donate a portion from every sale they make to the many women led organisations and charities, donating £11,000 so far! They state; ‘‘By wearing our t-shirts, sweatshirts or tote bags you help: 

  • Give female artists the power and voice they deserve.
  • Raise awareness and spark conversations about the underrepresentation of women artists in museums, galleries, art fairs, auction house and art history books.
  • Empower women through charities and organisations that we support’’.
Image Credit: ArtGirlRising – https://www.instagram.com/p/B3hPA4nFapZ/ 

Organisations such as ‘ArtGirlRising’ are a must in the continuous fight for gender equality. Although it may seem a small start, these are the stepping stones needed in order to change, imagine the difference this could have made to not just a woman in art currently, but the hundreds of younger girls who may feel like having a career in art is ‘unrealistic’.

During our own ‘In Manchester’ Exhibition, it became apparent that we actually had more women on display than men! This was spotted by textile artist Nerissa Cargill Thompson, who when picking her personal favourites noticed they were all women, she told me;

‘‘I hadn’t intended to pick just women artists in my shortlist of favourites and only noticed afterwards which made me decide to count the overall split. I was pleased to see an accidental female majority in an open unthemed exhibition knowing all the work had been chosen on merit. Without looking at the list, it is not obvious as such a wide range of styles and inspiration. As a textile artist working on an environmental theme, I often appear alongside a high proportion of women, but it is the wider contemporary art exhibitions and larger collections that women are still underrepresented.’’

She had two sculptures from her ‘Beached’ series featured in the exhibition – ‘Message in a bottle’ and ‘Because the Straw was the Problem’. These highlight issues of plastic pollution and focus on how the plastic we use every day, which we may see as inconsequential, are actually a major problem in the damage we are not only causing ourselves but, more importantly, to our planet.

So, what can we do as a community, men, women and other, to ensure that the future of female artists are represented and valued? As individuals, not that much maybe, but as a group we can make sure that day by day we appreciate the amazing female art we see in galleries, on social media and in shops, show your support! I know it’s easy to say as most of the underrepresentation is fuelled by larger organisations. For example, The Tate acknowledged that ‘Only 29% of the winners of the Turner Prize have been women… in 2017 Lubaina Himid became the first woman of colour to win’. Considering how many incredible woman of colour artists there are currently creating, this is disgraceful. Something that we have no control over, whether that be our gender, race or sexuality etc. should make absolutely NO difference as to whether we are represented by galleries, are able to win awards or achieve the goals we set ourselves, from landing a dream job to simply creating a piece of art we finally feel proud of.

Everyone’s experiences in the art world are different, but we are all part of the same community, sharing and learning from others around us. There are so many exhibitions and shows you can see right now (in real life!) that celebrate women from all backgrounds. And you never know, they may even inspire you to try out something you had never thought of before.

After all the future is female!


Our guest blogger is Georgina Russell, she says ‘I am a second year Fine Art student and am excited to have secured an art placement starting this August. I specialise in painting/illustration and love the little details highlighting the beauty in the world around us. Art for me is about escapism and appreciating all aspects of creativity and vibrancy within the art community. I can be found at @georginarose_designs on Instagram.


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