Art of Woman

Women Under-represented in the Arts

Guest writer Jennifer Amos writes about the participation and recognition of women in art. Many of the points Ms Amos raises applies to other fields. An Australian example is a recent study that found that women are under-represented in Architecture in Australia. According to the University of Melbourne, there are approximately equal male / female student numbers in Architecture faculties around Australia, yet, only 20.6% of the women registered for practice after graduation. There may be many reasons for this. Dr Niomi Stead has built a website forum to encourage debate about this issue. The site is called Parlour. Is there a similar site for artists?
Yes, women still have work to do to claim equality.

Margaret Kalms

No Going Back – There’s Still a Long Way to Go
Since 1960 I have been concerned with the creation of formal imagery that is specifically female, a new language that fuses mind and body into erotic objects that are namable and at the same time quite abstract. Its content has always related to my own body and feelings, reflecting pleasure as well as pain, the ambiguity and complexity of emotions." From Hannah Wilke, A Retrospective, University of Missouri Press, 1989
Two recent art exhibitions have brought forward this question of a specifically female “formal imagery”, but perhaps most importantly, have sought to re-examine the history of art through the work of female artists. These are
 WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution and  Elles: SAM - Singular Works by Seminal Women Artists.
Women on Display
The exhibition
WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, was curated by Connie Butler in 2007 for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.  Representing works by 120 female artists from the United States, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, this was the first historical exhibition to bring together the work of feminist artists working between the years of 1965-80.
More recently in 2012, the exhibition, 
Elles: SAM - Singular Works by Seminal Women Artistswas displayed at the Seattle Art Museum. The show exhibited one hundred and thirty photographs, sculptures, videos, and paintings representing the works of female artists working from 1907 and 2007. These works were borrowed from the Centre George Pompidou in Paris following their two yearlong showing of, Elles: Women Artists from the Center Pompidou, curated by Camille Moreau. The Paris exhibition featured 500 works representing mostly European artists including confrontational works by Valerie Export (exposed crotch and machine gun), Sigalit Landau (barded-wire hula hoop), and Charlotte Moorman (cello and camouflage uniform). Also featured was American conceptual artist Hannah Wilke’s,  S.O.S. Starification Object Series: An Adult Game of Mastication (1975).
Unchecked Inequality
Neither exhibition pretended to represent any type of synthesis through which the viewer might begin to imagine a distinct theme, ideology or other pattern tying together these works. This type of curatorial project, which brings works together solely based on the gender of their artists is one that reflects deeply on the social attitudes towards women. While the curatorial premise reveals the distance women have yet to make to achieve equality, it nonetheless provides an unprecedented opportunity for an audience to gain access to a large number of women’s works. This is valuable because unlike their male counterparts, the works of female artists are more rarely exhibited. Take for instance research published by the 
Great East London Art Audit, showing that only 27.5% of the artists represented at Frieze Art Fair in 2012 were women. Thus these exhibitions provide unique opportunities for viewers to form their own ideas and allow the work of women to broaden our collective understanding of human experience and history.
Adding to the Female Body of Work
First proposed by Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century, psychoanalytic theory presented new methods for rehabilitation as well as exerting a profound influence on aesthetics and philosophical analysis. Beginning in the 1970’s, 
feminist psychoanalytic theory, developed by Psychoanalysts like Julia Kristeva, Maud Mannoni, Luce Irigaray and Bracha Ettinger, began to enrich our understanding of sexual difference and how it comes into play in both psychoanalysis and aesthetics. Their research concerning unconscious sexual difference provides a powerful tool in the process of understanding how women see themselves and how their roles within society are defined. In the 70’s the influence of feminist psychoanalytic theory can be seen in the works of female artists and the significant focus they gave to the theme of body image. Rehabilitating this image, be it through a collective experience in art, or through individual counseling and therapy is a key factor in moving forward.
A More Feminine Future
There are many means through which women in western society are working to challenge the ways society views women and to develop their understanding of what it means to be female. The act of replacing all of the works of art by male artists with those made by women in exhibitions at major Museums in Seattle, LA and Paris, exposes the unfinished sexual revolution while revealing a distinctly female perspective. From psychoanalysis to contemporary exhibitions of work by female artists, the odds are increasing that the next generation of both men and women will be better equipped, perhaps even excited, to support sexual equality in the future.
Jennifer Amos