With contemporary art having a great focus on social and political issues and agendas, the subject of equality between the sexes in the art world is an important subject under much debate. Many say female artists are not given fair treatment or enough exposure by the art institutions however others argue that there are plenty of female artists and that it is the pay that is widely unequal.
Many female artists directly address the topic of gender inequality in both art and society as a whole. The anonymous group known as Guerrilla Girls is a massive source of feminist activist inspiration for bringing about racial and gender equality. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the group's founding, we think now is an especially relevant time to look at some women who make a significant contribution to art and creativity.
Michele Abeles’ work is about digital age of images, commodity and how people are reduced to being as insignificant as mundane objects. She combines everyday objects with nude males, using a photography process that flattens the collage of objects and people into a camouflaged Where’s Wally work which slowly reveals more parts of itself as the viewer looks on, literally reducing people to consumable generic items. For the artist, the nudes photographed in her work are as insignificant as the objects surrounding it. Abeles uses copyrighted images found on Google and edits them to create altered scales making the image almost surreal. This work is in response to how images are viewed in the digital age. We see so many layers of visual information, how much do we absorb it and in what way?
The infamous Tracey Emin is most famous for works like Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, a tent with walls of appliquéd names inside and My Bed, an installation of Emin’s unmade bed of used condoms and bloody, dirty underwear. Despite this work being some years ago now, Emin is still very present in contributing to the art world as well as selling her work to high bidders. She is an important role model as a successful and motivated female artist who makes no apologies.
Who Made Your Pants is a campaign running in Southampton, England. Becky John founds the brand and she buys material from big underwear companies at the end of the season to prevent it being wasted. Formed especially to empower women, the co-operative employ female refugees through support agencies to make and sew the pants. However, they also run kind of pop up environments where the customer can chose the fabric and sew their own pair of pants. This kind of work, I believe, is a very effective way of bringing participation based social art into the public sphere and addressing the taboo of making money from conceptual art.
Ghada Amers work addresses gender and sexuality within art using embroidery and paint to reference abstracted pornographic images of women. She challenges the male dominance and ownership of art. She uses paint abstractly, which she sees as having been made symbolic and dominant in history by men. And so by using this, she is occupying a territory, which has previously been denied to women. Simultaneously, by using uses embroidery, a practice associated with the feminine, to make a further political statement about gender.
Kara Walker uses black paper cut outs to make silhouettes exploring race, gender, sexuality and other social issues. She depicts sex and slavery and deems the viewers discomfort necessary when confronted with this. Her work investigates the dark capabilities of what people can and have done throughout history, and investigates the inability to accept the past.
The argument that feminism is no longer necessary because the sexes are equal is a statement that is wildly inaccurate due to many reasons in western culture alone, without taking into account the many parts of the world in which women aren’t afforded basic human rights. We still a long way to go inside and outside of art until we reach equality but these artists are a part of making that a reality.