As a part of Women’s History Month, The National Museum of Women in the Arts is back with their
#5WomenArtists campaign to bring more awareness to female artists. It’s a simple premise and challenge wrapped up in one simple hashtag: Can you name five women artists?
Maybe it’s one of those questions that you can’t think of an answer to precisely because someone has asked, but a surprising amount of people can’t come up with five answers. Further to this, you’ll find that a lot of the same names come up – *cough* Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe *cough*. In an ideal world, we’d all know hundreds of women artists, but let’s get started with these five and take it from there, shall we?
1. Amrita Sher-Gil
Hungarian-Indian artist Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–1941) was born in Budapest and lived there for much of her childhood before her family moved to India in 1921. She displayed artistic talent from a young age and moved to Paris to formally train in painting. She had critical success in France and showed at the Paris Salon, but experienced internal turmoil during this period surrounding her sexual and multi-racial identity. These conflicts combined with homesickness led to her eventual return to India. Much of her work centres on images of women and has a slight melancholy nature. Significantly, her work reflected the lives of modern Indian women of varying shades and economic statuses in a way that had not been done previously. Sher-Gil died at the age of 28 after a sudden illness possibly brought on by a failed abortion.
2. Lavinia Fontana
Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614) was a commercially successful artist during the Italian Renaissance working in portraiture and history paintings. History painting consists of historical, mythological and religious themes and was typically considered a subject matter for male painters. If that wasn’t shocking enough, she also painted some female nudes. As her popularity grew in Bologna, she became the artist-of-choice among the noblewomen of the area. Even after getting married and having eleven children she kept pace with a healthy level of commissions. Quite unconventionally at the time, her husband – who was also an artist – served as her assistant and helped to run their household. Fontana attracted commissions from Pope Gregory XIII and Pope Clement VIII. From these and other well-paid commissions, she was able to financially support her family.
3. Uemura Shōen
Uemura Shōen (1875–1949) was a Japanese nihonga painter during the Meiji period of modernisation. After the death of her father, Uemura was raised by a single mother and grew up drawing in the back of the shop run by the family. Before formally training at the Kyoto Prefectural Painting School, she was already exhibiting her work, taking commissions, and entering art contests. She enjoyed painting elegant women and female characters from noh theatre (which were actually played by men). After joining the Imperial Art Academy and serving as a court painter to Imperial Household Agency, she became the first woman to be awarded Japan’s Order of Culture in 1948.
4. Teresa Burga
Upon completing studies in painting at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, Lima, Teresa Burga (b.1935) became part of Grupo Arte Nuevo – an avant-garde collective working across Pop Art and conceptual happenings. In true Pop fashion, many of her early paintings drew on advertisements to make cultural commentary and included bright colours and domestic imagery. After receiving a Fulbright Fellowship enabling her to train at the Art Institute of Chicago, Burga began to experiment with the use of computing and algorithms in her practice. Cubes (above) combines partial images of women with graphic shapes to explore the idea of the body as a ‘system’. The colours, graphics, and mechanised method of production make this piece a good representation of Burga’s multi-disciplinary inspirations.
5. Alma Thomas
It was after retiring from teaching at the age of 69 that Alma Thomas (1891–1978) truly hit her stride as an artist. Her family moved from Columbas, Georgia to Washington, D.C. when she was a teenager to escape racial persecution in the American south and she remained there to study fine art at the historically black Howard University. She’d largely worked in a representational painting style up to this point, but she began to experiment with abstraction in college (we all experiment in college, don’t we?). After graduating, she taught art at a D.C. junior high school for 35 years and painted in her free time. Inspired by the Colour Field movement of the 1940s and 50s, Thomas began to create pieces exploring the use of colour and shape. She went on to become the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.