If we review the History of Art, how many women artists do we know? How many are protagonists? Yes, we possibly all know Frida Kahlo because we may have turned her into an icon, but we would dare to say few more. How many women painters or sculptors appear in books? Surely we can count them with the fingers of one hand and yet, women from all disciplines and times have contributed extraordinarily to the creation of knowledge, art, and culture.
To understand the entire History of Art, it is necessary to consider the half that has been excluded and made invisible. It should be rewritten to view it from a gender perspective where the woman is a protagonist and not just a muse. When speaking of art and women, we have the image of the woman more as a muse, a simple model represented in various supports and techniques, rather than as an artist, more as a passive subject than an active and creative one.
It is inconceivable that still today, 75% of the exhibitions programmed in museums around the world are still for men. The same percentage could be applied to the exhibitions held in different galleries or artistic and cultural centers. The most internationally relevant artistic event held since 1895, the Venice Biennale, did not have female presence until 2005 with the Portuguese creator Joan Vasconcelos. They needed 110 years to accept “women artists.”
Reading the words “women and art” surely brings to mind all kinds of images. Statues, paintings, and angelic faces. If we use the two words together, women and art, we think of artworks representing the female figure and not of their production. The female figure has played a role as an object and not as a creator.
It is time to claim the role of women in the History of Art, as a creator and not just as a model. In recent years, work has been done in this sense, fortunately. The Swedish painter Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) is now spoken of and recognized as the “inventor” of abstract art, followed as a source of inspiration for male artists like Mondrian, Malevich, and Kandinsky, who do appear in the books.
Everyone knows the great male Impressionists, Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Degas,… But almost no one knows Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva González, and Marie Bracquemond, four painters who touched artistic excellence within the Impressionist group. Georgia O’Keeffe, Lee Krasner, Tamara de Lempicka, Helen Frankenthaler, Yayoi Kusama, Dora Maar,… are just some of the more current names.