My Favourite Women in Art

Awe Inspiring Female Artists
We live in a patriarchal society, that is a fact. That the art world is a man’s world is also a fact. However, since the 60’s, corresponding with the so called second rise of the feminist movement, the Feminist art movement has brought more visibility to women within art history and art practice. The effects of the Feminist art movement can still be felt today with female artists who empower themselves by unapologetically visually representing the female experience through their work. Here are three of my favourite female artists of all time.  
Renee Cox
Renee Cox, a Jamaican American mixed media artist is described in her biography as one of the most “controversial African-American artists working today.” Born in 1960 in Jamaica, Cox uses her own body to critique what she sees as an inherently sexist and racist society while simultaneously celebrating what it means to be a black woman. Unafraid to confront sexist and racist stereotypes, Cox for me embodies everything that I would like to be in her confrontational social commentary. One of her most controversial series of works to date entitled “Flipping the Script,” involved Cox’s reinterpretations of religious art with contemporary black figures. The most controversial of the photographs in a series entitled “Yo Mama’s Last Supper” was shown at the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 2001. Cox reinterpreted Da Vinci’s Last Supper as a photograph of a nude Cox as Jesus Christ in the centre, with black disciples all around her, apart from Judas, who was depicted as a white man. When New York Mayor Rude Guiliani called for such works “not to be shown in a museum that regularly received public funding”, her response was as follows:
I have the right to reinterpret the Last Supper as Leonardo Da Vinci created the Last Supper with people who look like him. The hoopla and the fury are because I am a black woman. It’s about me having nothing to hide.” (From www.reneecox.org)
Challenging inspirational and unreservedly unapologetic. Love her.
Renee Cox. Your Mamma’s Last Supper 1996. Copyright Renee Cox.
Nancy Spero (1926-2009)
Nancy Spero was an American visual artist and activist whose career lasted for 50 years. According to the Michigan Chapter of the Women’s Caucus for Art’s Official Blog, when discussing the sexism evident in the art world, Spero once said,
“I’ve always sought to express a tension in form and meaning in order to achieve a veracity. I have come to the conclusion that the art world has to join us, women artists, not we join it. When women are in leadership roles and gain rewards and recognition, then perhaps ‘we’ (women and men) can all work together in art world actions.”
The PBS series Art21 (Art in the 21st Century) website describes Spero’s work as follows:
… an unapologetic statement against the pervasive abuse of power, Western privilege, and male dominance.”

Nancy Spero. Segment of -Torture of Women 1976.

Spero’s work was mostly executed on paper and in large public installations world wide. Using women as protagonists, Spero’s work focused on reinforcing her principles of equality and tolerance by drawing on historical events as well as contemporary news for inspiration including the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust, the torture of women in Nicaragua and the atrocities of the Vietnam war. Embarrassingly for me, I only became aware of Nancy Spero some time in 2004 when I was making the decision to become an artist. My research lead me to two of her most memorable works for me personally, Torture in Chile (1974) and the long scroll, Torture of Women (1976, 20 inches x 125 feet). Both depicted the horror and brutality inflicted on women using real oral accounts of torture taken from Amnesty International reports- the works represented previously invisible histories of real women and wove them with real events happening at that time. Spero died of heart Failure in 2009 at the age of 83.
Nancy_Spero. Segment of Torture of women 1976
Wangechi Mutu
Born in 1972 in Kenya, Wangechi Mutu is a new favourite artist of mine. Mutu currently lives and works in New York. In her bio published on the Saatchi Gallery website, Mutu observes,
Females carry the marks, language and nuances of their culture more than the male. Anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body.”
I couldn’t agree with her more. Mutu intuitively expresses this opinion by piecing together painted surfaces with contemporary magazine images and found objects to create beautiful and intricate works which reference fashion, African politics cultural history and colonial identity. Essence magazines feature “10 Female Artists You Should Know About,” referred to her work as work which explores female sexuality and the myths surrounding African women as “wild and exotic.” Time Out New York described her work as “Divine and Decadent.”

Wangechi Mutu untitled. 2003

The piece that speaks the most to me by far is “Complete Prolapsus of the Uterus” 2004- Glitter, ink collage on found medical illustration paper…
wangechi mutu complete prolapsus of the uterus. 2004. Glitter Ink collage on found medical illustration paper. copyright wangechi mutu
Here, I have presented scant details of just three awe inspiring female artists who influence me personally. There are thousands of female artists making relevant (but unrecognised) contributions to art history through their work. I sincerely hope that one day, preferably during my life time, I wake up to find that the art world has morphed into something for talented artists of all backgrounds and races, that truly represents what Nancy Spero imagined when she said,
When women are in leadership roles and gain rewards and recognition, then perhaps ‘we’ (women and men) can all work together in art world actions.”

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