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‘Women have created art throughout history, and yet for over 700 years, art has been a mostly male game. If asked to name the art world greats, most people will cite the names of male artists. We still celebrate the Old Masters – and rightly so, they were undeniably remarkable – yet when we reflect on them in the context of today’s globalised world, we see a group of artists who were overwhelmingly European, white and male, with women and minorities relegated to the status of their subject matter.
With the women’s liberation movement, we came a step towards equality in the arts and in the late 1960s a feminist art movement began to emerge. In the mid-80s, the Guerrilla Girls burst on to the scene fighting against sexual and racial inequality in the arts. And yet here we are in 2017 and the gender balance is still askew.
According to a survey conducted by Washington-based National Museum of Woman in the Arts, works by female artists make up only 3-5% of major permanent collections in the US and Europe. To illustrate this point, here in the UK our sizeable public collections of impressionist paintings only include five works by the celebrated female artist, Berthe Morisot.
Earlier this year I launched a new strand of the Young Masters Art Prize, the contemporary art prize I founded in 2009, to address this inequality and give a platform and voice for a young, female artist. I called it the Young Masters Emerging Woman Art Prize. The response was overwhelming and in the prize entries I noticed that something is bubbling away: it is female artists who are embracing experimentation and the avant garde. They are critically engaging with their position within contemporary society and the history of art.
A young Iranian-born Boston-based artist, Azita Moradkhani has won both of these prizes. Fresh from art school, she creates art that fuses elements of Western art, Iranian identity and modern life. Moradkhani’s delicate drawings of women’s underwear are overlaid with iconography from the works of Michelangelo, Gericault and Monet. Beauty is her weapon to make political points aesthetically approachable, and she calls the viewer to question the authority of male creation over the female body.
Other examples of ambitious women-focused projects include the recent Soho House acquisition programme: Vault 100 at The Ned in the heart of the City of London, featuring 92 female British artists. There is an exciting new wave of feminism emerging in the art world and it includes artists coming from the Middle East and Iran. Women’s artistic voices are louder than ever with exciting creative ideas.
- A selection of women artists from the Young Masters Art Prize including previous and current winners will be featured in the Young Masters exhibition at the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery London, from 2–14 October, during Frieze week.
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Featured Image: Lottie Davies, Viola as Twins, 2009