Today is International Women’s Day, as most of you know from the memes on your Facebook timeline. To celebrate fantastic international female artists, we decided to feature some of their stories on the artMEAT blog. These women go way beyond mythology. They have tackled more than one beast in their past and persevered to bestow their stories on the world through artistic expression. Let’s take a look at their journeys across the world over.
Kara Walker – (1969 - ) Mixed Media Artist
Kara Walker hails from Stockton, CA. She went to the Atlanta College of Art and graduated with her BFA in 1991. She went on to study at the Rhode Island School of Design where she received her MFA in 1994. Walker’s art explores issues surrounding race, gender, and sexuality. She is well known for creating iconic, silhouetted figures. She takes this traditional Victorian medium and turns it on its head. By placing the silhouettes directly on the walls of the art gallery she turns the space into a more theatrical setting. There is so much movement with her cutout characters that they appear to be reenacting scenes in real time. With her piece “Darkytown Rebellion” (2000) she used overhead projectors to places lights with different colors on the ceiling, walls, and floors of the gallery. All of these lights caught the viewer’s body in their projection and cast the shadow onto the wall to join her characters. Walker blends the realistic aspects of slavery with her fictional stories to pull in but also implicate the viewer.
In 2014, Kara Walker took on a new challenge and created her first ever large-scale public project. She created a large, sugar coated sculpture of a sphinx-like woman inside the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, NY. She created this piece as a commentary on the building and the history of the sugar trade. The title of the piece, “The Subtlety” is poetry in and of itself. Walker says the piece is, “an homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the New World on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”
Walker has shown her art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. In 1997, she received the MacArthur Fellowship and represented the U.S. in Bienal de São Paulo in 2002. She lives in New York and serves on the faculty of the MFA program at Columbia University.
Shirin Neshat (1957 - ) Video & Installation Artist
Shirin Neshat was born in Qazvin, Iran in 1957. She traveled to the U.S. at age 17 to study art. She got her BA, MA, and MFA from the University of California, Berkeley. She returned to Iran in 1990 and found it to be very different from the land she knew before the 1979 Revolution. This shocking revelation is thought to have influenced her work which includes references to memory, loss, and contemporary like in Iran. She uses her artwork to delve into political and social issues in Iran.
In the mid-1990s, she began her “Women of Allah” series. In this series she analyzes conditions of the different identities that make up Iranian and Western cultures including gender, public vs private, and religious vs secular. She has received much acclaim for her work outside of Iran. She has done shows at the Venice Biennale, the Istanbul and Johannesburg Biennials, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Tate Gallery in London. Nehsat is currently residing and working in New York.
Barbara Kruger (1945 - ) American Designer, Graphic Artist, and Photographer
Barbara Kruger grew up in Newark, NJ. She attended Syracuse University for one year and then moved to NYC to take more advanced classes at the Parsons School of Design. After Parsons, Kruger began working in the magazine industry. She worked for House and Garden, Aperture, and Mademoiselle. She became the lead designer at Mademoiselle at age 22. Though she was successful in this field, she wanted to be an artist. In 1973, Marcia Tucker founded the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York and featured some of Kruger’s pieces in an exhibit. Later in the 1970s, Kruger started teaching in Berkeley, CA. She began incorporating written words into her work. She became very interested in poetry. She began creating pieces that mixed poetry and photographs. She also started playing with the spaces in which her work was shown.
After producing a couple of works juxtaposing words with architecture, she began exploring phrases that centered on social power structure, technology, and the human condition. She introduced found images into her work. The pieces were usually from magazines and newspapers. She wanted to explore our “ability to determine who we are and who we aren’t.” Her pieces were commentaries on feminism, consumerism, desire, and personal autonomy. A big shift took place in her work starting in 1991 when her self-titled solo exhibit at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York transitioned into an installation that covered every inch of the gallery’s interior. She said she wanted to create a red, white, and black “arena of hostility.” Kruger was the first female artist to sign with the Mary Boone Gallery. At the time, this gallery was famous for showing macho, neo-expressionist male artists. In the 1990s, Kruger returned to magazine world. She designed covers for The New Republic, Ms., Newsweek, and Esquire. There seems to be a strong sense of irony that her work is being featured in a commercial medium when she is commenting on our consumerist culture.
For the last 20 years Kruger’s work has included large scale pieces for museums and public spaces all over the world. She is currently teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has written articles for The New York Time, Artform, and The Village Voice. Kruger co-curated the 51st Venice Biennale, “The Experience of Art,” in 2005. This was the first time the Biennale had been curated by two women. She currently lives in NYC and LA.
We end this overview with a wish that we could include more. There are so many fantastic female artists around the world and they all have their own unique perspective to share. With all of the issues facing women globally (illiteracy rates, access to clean water, wage inequality) these works of art can have a huge impact in helping each of us step into another woman’s shoes. Walk around for a mile or so in those shoes, see if you notice anything different from your everyday perspective. It may change some minds and hopefully it will change some policies so half the population on this planet can feel a bit more equal. "Because how history is written, both in and out of art institutions, is how you shape the world. “ - Judy Chicago