The art world has long been a masculine one; a space women artists have had to manoeuvre in, fighting against and satirising. Since the 20th Century, the role that was historically curtailed for women in art has been debated and criticised with growing vigour. In 1989, the Guerilla Girls told us that 85% of nudes in the Met Museum’s Modern Art Sections are female, while the representation of women artists in the same section was less than a pitiable 5%. Judy Chicago’s momentous 1974 work The Dinner Party commemorated important women from history, with thirty-nine place settings on the table and the names of a further 999 women inscribed in gold on the white tile floor below. Women have always made art, from prehistoric textiles onwards, but as Judy Chicago makes literal in her installation, they were denied their place at the metaphorical table for too long.
It is thanks to the graft of many women that now their art is no longer sidelined to the margins of art history books or into the small, pokey rooms of museums. We now have the gift (and the task) of rediscovering the work of female identifying artists from generations before us, seeing the true value in it. Social media is also increasingly playing an important role in showcasing the work of emerging artists.
To celebrate Women’s History Month this March, Lula examined how women have looked at themselves as well as other women from Camille Claudel to Sarah Lucas and Clementine Hunter to Johnette Iris Stubbs. As has become clear, it is crucial for people to narrate their own experiences and also to be heard and understood. Found in these portraits, whose context, content and medium differed so widely, was a shared sense of intimacy and sympathy in their nuanced celebrations of womanhood.