Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her “We Should All Be Feminists” TED Talk, asserts that every human being has the responsibility to call him- or herself a feminist. She points out that when men or women do not embrace feminism, they are literally denying “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.“
She recounts an instance when she went to a restaurant with a male friend in her home country of Nigeria. She had to have a man accompanying her in order to enter the restaurant, to guarantee she wasn’t a prostitute in search of business. When she tipped the man who helped them find a parking spot, rather than thanking her, the man thanked her friend. The man thanked the friend when she paid him because it was inconceivable to him that a woman could be successful, educated, possess her own money, or make any independent decisions. Just as Chimamanda Adichie felt overlooked and discounted, this is how many women feel all over the world every day.
November 8, 2016 marked the first time in our 227 year history a woman was a major party candidate for President of the United States. The population of the United States has been 51% female for a long time. Likewise, 51% of visual artists today are women, according to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. In spite of this, the Guerrilla Girls (an art-oriented group of women who fight discrimination), remind us that “Less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Art section of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are women, but 76% of the nudes are female.”
Is this really who we are–a society that views women so overwhelmingly voyeuristically, but not intellectually or by their level of skill? Unfortunately, the lack of outcry among women (and men) against remarks by Donald Trump in the 2016 election make it seem so.
Check out this video about Fierce Women of Art:
“Why have there been no great women artists?” The question tolls reproachfully in the background of most discussions of the so-called woman problem. But like so many other so-called questions involved in the feminist “controversy,” it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer: “There are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness….The question “Why have there been no great women artists?” is simply the top tenth of an iceberg of misinterpretation and misconception; beneath lies a vast dark bulk of shakyidees recues about the nature of art and its situational concomitants, about the nature of human abilities in general and of human excellence in particular, and the role that the social order plays in all of this.”
It’s certainly time to appreciate the phenomenal women artists in our midst. They are not only capable of greatness; they’ve already achieved it ten times over. It is time to spread knowledge of their works by writing about them, visiting their exhibitions, and collecting their works. We need to do this not just because they are women, but because they are making incredibly important art that communicates with us through a different lens.
Hung Liu, for instance, is one of the most influential of all women artists painting in the United States today. Hung labored in the wheat fields of China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution; she worked tirelessly for years to get her passport from the Chinese government so she could attend art school in the U.S. She left all she knew behind in China, and came to the U.S. with nothing. Thanks to her unfaltering work ethic and skill, Hung Liu’s paintings are now in virtually every major art museum in the United States.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks of being suspected of being a prostitute when she entered any restaurant or hotel alone in Nigeria, but Hung Liu gives the concubines and peasants of China new life in her paintings. She paints the images of these bedraggled women as if they are royalty, surrounding them with fortuitous symbols and gold.
Hung Liu turns her attention to themes of American struggle in her latest series of works, inspired by the great American artist Dorothea Lange’s Dust Bowl era photographs. For Hung Liu, “Every day is Thanksgiving, and every day is also Memorial Day.” She memorializes the grit and determination of so many American women with this new body of work.
Hung Liu’s artwork is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at American University’s Katzen Art Center, coinciding with this momentous election. This is important because like Hillary Clinton, Hung Liu is a born warrior. In a true coup for women in contemporary art, the National Portrait Gallery is commissioning Hung Liu to paint great American actress Meryl Streep’s portrait.
Another contemporary art icon is Squeak Carnwath. Carnwath’s paintings are in permanent collections in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Art Gallery, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and many more.
Carnwath is an artist-philosopher whose work opens a portal into our every-day collective consciousness. Playlists, grocery lists, scam emails, color wheels…all ephemera of our shared human experience. Carnwath’s highly personal symbolism in her art feels like the symbolism we use in our own lives. She is able to elevate the banal to the beautiful in her paintings. It would be hard for anyone–male or female–to match the artistic gesture, line quality, and painterliness in Carnwath’s work.
New Mexico sculptor Karen Yank makes fabulous sculptural public art commissions of monumental scale, in addition to her gallery-scale works.
There are many more contemporary women artists we need to be celebrating. Take a moment to look at these amazing artists:
Nina Tichava in her Santa Fe studio
These contemporary women artists should be included in every art history book, and every art collector should know them:
Women are certainly capable of excellence–and they demonstrate it–as often as do men. This is why every one of us, no matter our gender, should all be feminists.