26 March 2018

#5WOMENARTISTS...AND THEN WHAT?

SHE’S MY MUSE

BY: KATHLEEN LEW

As Women’s History Month comes to an end, it is important to remember the feminist art collective Guerilla Girls’ iconic 1990 Pop Quiz:

“If February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month what happens the rest of the year?”

“Discrimination.”


March is almost over, but sexism and oppression remain in the art world, museums, and beyond.

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This is the 3rd year of the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ (NMWA) social media campaign #5WomenArtists. During Women's History Month, the campaign asks people to name 5 women artists. It’s more challenging than you think—try it (bonus points if your list only includes living artists). The hashtag also encourages museums to highlight women artists in their collections. The NMWA strives for equal gender representation in the art world. #5WomenArtists elicits shock, creates greater engagement with women's art, and starts valuable discussion about gender parity in the arts.

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This year, the campaign emphasizes women artists of colour with #5WomenArtists of colour. The exercise becomes increasingly powerful when race is added to the equation.

The questions are endless—Can you name five Black women artists? Five Indigenous women artists? Five Asian women artists?

#5WomenArtists of colour encourages participants to explore the importance of intersectionality in feminism and why certain gaps of knowledge exist.

What is a “woman artist” anyway?

Yes, some artists identify as women, among many other things. “Woman” is a category made up of a diverse group of individuals who act within intersections of race, sexuality, class, age, ability, etc. By limiting artists to the title of “woman artist”, we risk further marginalizing an entire group of creators based on their gender.

#5WomenArtists is an important first step (or tweet), but it is far from the last. Campaigns like #5WomenArtists need to lead to concrete institutional and systemic change—in our textbooks, in our museums, and in our understandings of art. As Linda Nochlin teaches us, male-dominated narratives are institutionally reinforced through museums, the art market, and education, building an environment that fundamentally disadvantages women.

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Fighting for greater representation of women artists is important and inspiring, but how can we address what left them out in the first place? We must push our celebrations and criticisms to both incorporate and move beyond womanhood. Engaging with intersectional feminism in museums is crucial. It means unlearning sexism, teaching anti-oppression, and holding ourselves and others accountable.

A museum can tweet about the women artists in their collection, but where is the explanation of why  gender disparities continue to exist on gallery walls? #FiveWomenArtists raises awareness for all the incredible women creators of past, present, and future. That future needs to include addressing institutional weaknesses, bringing the hashtag into concrete action and sustainable change.


Can you name #5WomenArtists? Today we’re marking day one of #WomensHistoryMonth by handing over to Katy Hessel of @thegreatwomenartists to share her favourite five from Tate’s collection. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ '2017's #TurnerPrize winner, and the first artist ever to win the prize over the age of 50, Lubaina Himid found fame championing the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s. Zanzibar-born and Preston-based, Himid's work (which comes in woodcuts, ceramics, paintings and more) challenges stereotypical depictions of black figures in art history. The above painting from 1991 shows two women covered with a map of the past in search of new robes and a new direction. As Lubaina is the poster woman for contemporary art right now, it seems to be going in a very good direction.’ - Katy ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Keep posted for Katy’s #5WomenArtists today and let us know who’d be amongst your #5WomenArtists. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Lubaina Himid, Ankledeep 1991, Tate collection
A post shared by Tate (@tate) on


NMWA’s use of social media has spread the reality of gender inequality across the internet in a creative and effective way. This month’s emphasis on race is an extremely valuable addition. But how can we end the discrimination that is occurring the rest of the year?

Yes to #FiveWomenArtists. Even more yes to #FiveWomenArtists of colour. But then what?

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