March 8th is International Women’s Day. A day which celebrates the social, political, economic and cultural achievements of women around the world.
In honor of this day, we asked international emerging contemporary female artists how they see their position in today’s society and what kind of influence they think they have on it through their art. Each day, during the week of International Women’s Day, we will share the work of one of these talented female artists and reveal their response.
Kaori Nagata brasilian painter
When I was still a teenager, I spent a lot of time looking at Frida Kahlo’s paintings. Later on, I also discovered Käthe Kollwitz’s drawings and quickly became fascinated by her work. Both artists had an impact on me. Their images heavily influenced my first steps as an artist, mainly because they explored universal themes through personal experiences.
At that time, I did not really pay much attention to the fact that they were both female artists – my admiration came from a place that did not require me to look at them that way. I did not give importance to the fact that some of my major influences came from the female world or art. However, I was wrong. The sensibility found in their works, as well as their expression of personal battles, were somehow deeply connected to the feminine universe. After years of self-exploration in search for my own artistic voice, I have found that Kahlo and Kollwitz have been speaking to me all these years through their feminine voices, because their battles were also mine. While the world is increasingly aware of the need to push for change when it comes to women’s rights, I see myself wanting to learn more about all battles that are being fought by women around the world. It is only by learning and increasing my own awareness that I will be able to comprehend the world we live in, and hopefully contribute to its transformation as an artist.
As the Brazilian journalist Eliane Brum writes in her open letter “De uma branca para outra” (From a white woman to another one), where she discusses the issue of cultural appropriation and black women’s situation in Brazil: “(…) learning is movement, not deglutition.” This learning process is based on actively looking for other female artists, to understand their own unique worlds. It is also based on a constant self-analysis and search for balance in my work, where I explore my personal experiences to create images.
Although I do not talk about gender issues in my work, I believe that one does not need to purposefully discuss feminism to create spaces for relatability with other female artists and female viewers.
I do not believe I am able to answer the second part of the question in a fair manner. Not only because I have been publicly sharing my work for just a few years (and, as a result, there is a limited amount of exposure to use as reference), but also because the influence of my work is mainly felt and seen by others, not myself. However, I can point out a few examples that have been directly reported to me. Whether they are around me (friends, family and acquaintances), or they have had contact with the images I produce (through exhibitions and social media), some of those who have experienced my work have given me their feedbacks. To put in context, my work is mainly built around the topic of food and how people (myself included) relate to it on a personal level (through family traditions, dietary restrictions and so on). These ideas of food as a connection between humans as social beings and the natural world give birth to paintings and drawings. I have heard from viewers, after they realize the starting point of what I create, that they can relate to the stories that were used as background. I often hear their own thoughts on how dishes they love are connected to the ideas of motherhood and love. These few feedbacks have helped me understand that the fact that I am creating dialogues about food is also linked to the female world. Because the first meal most of us got to experience came from our mothers – or at least, most of us have a female figure in mind when we recall our fondest memories regarding food.
I hope that through my work, I will be able to create spaces for dialogues to take place, evoking positive nostalgic feelings about women. Some might consider this a rather simple and non-ambitious desire. However, to my mind, to look at our female role models with respect and admiration for all battles they might have fought, is a feasible and simple gesture. Because it is simple, it creates relatability and can easily be spread. That might be a small but transformative gesture for many of us. It is important to point out that this realization was only possible through a dialogue with one of my viewers. And I have certainly transformed and benefited from it. The influence, I believe, occurs in both ways.
Eri Greilich, german mixed media artist
I never ask if calling myself a woman makes a difference to things I do or create. I wonder why so many people are asking me this question. There is nothing special about me making art as a
woman, but for society, it still is and that should be questioned. As an artist, why is it still important what gender I identify with?
Society’s struggle with different gender identities is one of the main sources of inspiration for my work. The shape of our body does not always fit with the image we have of ourself in our mind. Being a woman does not make anyone special, but being a man does not either.
What is in our heads and hearts is important and the honor of being an artist gives me the ability to focus on that and disregard my gender while drawing. I am blessed to live a life which fits well with my inner self. I am a woman even though it was pretty much a random accident that I was also born as one. I try my best to show with my art that body shape is a state of mind and gender is fluid. International Women's Day reminds me of my duty to fight for gender equality. It is no longer a fight for female rights, for me it is a fight for tolerance and acceptance through art.
Zsana Kalácska, hungarian jewelry designer and owner of the label Zwana Modular
To be a woman means to me, above all else, equality and for a complete life it is essential to use all possibilities of this quality. I think it is important for all women, although we are
different at the same time. One continually argues about the roles and tasks of a woman; questioning her "place" in society and in the family. I cannot claim that the society I live in is able to
handle these questions correctly, but nowadays we live in a time - and it was not always so, where we can decide freely, to formulate our own answers to this question and set priorities. A
well-functioning society should validate and encourage this, but in places where society does not do this or only superficially supports this, it is incumbent upon the individual to define
herself and live as she sees fit even if this challenges social norms.
The fact that many new opportunities, which were previously unthinkable, have opened up for women means that they have to prove themselves in more areas than ever before. This creates a paradoxical situation. It is impossible for a woman to excel in all areas at the same time. Society suggests that a woman is only good enough when she is a perfect mother, lover, cook, successful entrepreneur, etc. Society will also be quick to judge a woman who does not achieve perfection in one of these roles. For example, if a woman stays at home with her child and takes care of the family, society minimizes contributions. However, when she works, society thinks she is a selfish careerist who neglects her family. Consequently, a woman’s "place" in society can be elusive. I believe, the only way out of this difficult situation is a strong and healthy self-image. I consider it very important to have the courage to be imperfect.
I first experienced this tension between my personal and professional life when I acquired my diploma in 2009 at the MOME (Moholy-Nagy University of Arts and Crafts) in Budapest and I was already five months pregnant. I was concerned that motherhood would negatively affect my artistic activity but I knew that giving up art entirely was out of the question. The creative existence is a way of life for me and it would be a very big compromise to resign entirely from it. I believe that if you have special skills and talents you have a responsibility to express them. For me, art is a spiritual process, a creative experience. Creative people are hyper-sensory and perceive their environment with a superior sensitivity. They have the ability to analyze and transform information. They are able to reproduce something that exists only in them, in a form which is also understandable or perceptible to others. This is a gift which we must use.
With my art, I basically want to communicate two important things. One is addressed to women because I create my jewelry mainly for them. Thanks to the media many women feel inferior and prefer to be hidden and invisible than to stand in the light and stand by themselves as they are. My pieces are striking and spectacular and I wish more and more women would have the courage to wear them. I see how my customers transform and light up when they try on one of my creations. As my creations give them more self-confidence. They also notice it and for me it is a fantastic experience to see how they bring life to the objects I create while exuding happiness. The second message is for everyone. I firmly believe that if more of us could choose a profession or have the courage to do it with heart and soul, there would be fewer bitter and frustrated people and the world would be a better place. In spite of the difficulties that have arisen and will result in my profession, I would like to be an example that it is possible.
Luján Cordaro, argentinian illustrator
I don’t see myself as a female artist. I see myself as an artist. I don’t think art can be tagged as female or male. I think art is a result of an inner process particular to every
However, I have to admit that the struggle is different. As in many other industries, the art one is still very men dominated and it’s harder for women to make it.
I am contributing with an Art Magazine where I write about Women in Art and it always surprises me how many people don’t know the artists I’m talking about. This is not a problem of people’s lack of knowledge, it’s simple because over the years women’s work were always consider secondary. If you stop anyone on the street and ask if they know Picasso, Van Gogh or Dali, no matter if they like them or not, most of the people would say yes. If you asked them about Hannah Höch, Käthe Kollwitz or Marina Abramovic most of them would have no clue.
Over the years women’s mainly role was to be the muses, meanwhile the art was made by men. In 1989 the “Guerrilla Girls” published a funny and critical poster that said that "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum? - Less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women but 76% of the nudes are female.”
I try to express a more quiet and magical reality through my art. I see it as an escape of the daily noise. If my art was to influence or change something, I hope it’s making people calm down.
In a very fast, stressful world I prefer providing small fantasy characters and dreamy scenes that can take people to a happier place.
I actively participate in women’s groups and activities. I work in the Latin american Women Association in Berlin (Xochi) where I teach art to kids. They provide lots of activities and organize events to encourage women to get together and make things. It’s a nice cooperation atmosphere where they help each other with finding jobs, learning the language, doing arts, etc. I like being part of that.
I also write my “Women in Art” section in a magazine called “Samizdat Online" with the aim to encourage people to find these brilliant artists that so many people forgot to include in books about History of art.
Karmen Kraft, spanish mixed media artist
It is generally known that the representation of women throughout the history of art has comprised of stereotypes. And even today, femininity is often still presented by the same male outlook;
fragile, mystified and fetishized. This creates and reinforces a position in a world that is still mostly dominated by men. Fighting against this subjugation of women is a struggle that
must continue in order to give women greater visibility not only in art but also in society.
Since the 1950s, there have been numerous female artists who have worked hard to express their voice through their art. They have tried to overthrow prevailing stereotypes by questioning them and through their work show the feminine figure in a new light; with more openness, heterogeneity and unexpected details. This enlightened creativity, as a result, has reduced the gap between the sexes and fueled a transition from traditional and or conventional viewpoints to a mentality of growing acceptance, equal treatment and celebration of diversity.
The main theme of my work is the person and their loneliness; represented as unique beings, with their complexity, inconsistency and inner struggles. A person who can remain independent and at the same time integrate into a society where their thoughts and deeds are indispensable to others. I can identify with and am moved by strong emotions, but cannot always verbally express them. Art is for me the medium, where I can communicate what I feel.
When answering the second part of the question, I would like to underline that my artistic perspective is not feminist, but feminine. By stripping down the layers of my subjects to reveal their deepest emotions and desires, I create a window into the femininity that exists within all of us. Through my work, I reflect on the concept of modern femininity and other topics close to my heart including the importance of equality, respect and freedom. I believe these are the three most important values in order to live together in a healthy society. These values can breakdown and eradicate cultural and social constructs about the differences between the sexes, which have been passed on from generation to generation and shape social, professional and artistic direction. I believe that we live in a progressive time and it is desirable to rethink dated social constructs and it is necessary to allow art to explore our individual and collective vulnerabilities so that we can experience and interpret the reality that surrounds us in new ways.
Olivia Descampe, french collage artist
I consider myself as an independent woman trying to make her living doing what she loves without making any concessions. I find that my artwork has both a liberating and educating (though my
iconographic research) function.
Working with these collages makes me feel good, and the message I want to deliver, to those who receive it, is also to do good. If I can offer a bit of a dream and seduce the viewer through an image that comes out of reality, but is original, attractive and good, then I think I have contributed to having done something positive; this is my best remedy for the ills of everyday life.
For me, art is essential to one’s health and the health of the society. Every artist is a sponge that soaks in its environment.The artist’s work evolves according to his/her personal experiences, and he/she transposes their perceptions of life in a proposal submitted to the society. From this, everyone feels an emotion that is unique.
Ale Senso, italian streetartist
Sometimes I ask myself, whether or not it makes sense to get oneself involved with the social aspects associated with being a woman in such a historical moment. Nowadays, the dominant culture
(expression of the ruling class) pushes dramatically towards the atomization of society and consequently leads to a loss of a consciousness of community. Being more specific, in the first years
of my artistic activity (beginning of the ‘90s) affiliation and association in our movement was very strong, we were friends and colleagues. Today it may be difficult even proposing to come
together in a jam: we are turning into rivals. In a situation like this, where the law of the jungle is what rules, being a woman doesn’t help...
As a visual artist, however, I can express what I see and feel using more or less evocative ways. And, I believe that it is absolutely important to denounce the status quo, fighting it using culture and showing to as many people as possible, that this is NOT the only possible world to live in. The communicative potential of public art, such as street art, as such is remarkable. In ancient Rome, for example, art led to the diffusion of propaganda messages in public. At that time this was the main form of media, while nowadays street art is only one of the many existing media, and it is highly connected to and limited by the local sphere. Consequently, the role that various internet platforms are taking is very relevant, as they allow us to present our work on a digital level all over the globe. With freedom of expression under attack by so called ‘fake news’ - disguised as defence of the citizens - art risks becoming the last stronghold of resistance against the system.