In honor of International Women’s Day, our staff is highlighting #5WomenArtists whose art inspires them! These women inspire us through their creative work, advocacy, and self-expression.
Mickalene Thomas is known for her depictions of Black women in paintings, collage, video, photographs, and installations. Thomas derives inspiration from Western art and pop culture, creating pieces reminiscent of images from art history, particularly those of Henri Matisse and Edouard Manet, that incorporate contemporary Black female figures. Thomas’ hallmark materials include acrylic, enamel, glitter, and rhinestones. Sometimes considered to be nontraditional, these materials are associated with folk art and adornment, compelling the viewer to consider our assumptions about femininity and beauty. Her works center the representation of black women, touching upon themes including power, identity, and beauty.
“To see yourself, and for others to see you, is a form of validation. I’m interested in that very mysterious and mystical way we relate to each other in the world.”
Josephine Baker was a dancer and spy! She was one of the most sought-after performers in Paris, and during WWII, she performed for the Nazi army and would pass on secrets she heard while performing in front of the enemy to the French Resistance forces. She transported the confidential information by writing with invisible ink on music sheets. When she returned to the U.S., she refused to perform for segregated audiences, forcing club owners to integrate for her shows. In 1963, she was one of the few women allowed to speak at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The NAACP named May 20 “Josephine Baker Day” in honor of her work as a civil rights advocate.
“The things we truly love stay with us always, locked in our hearts as long as life remains.”
Claude Cahun was a French queer photographer, writer, and sculptor. Born Lucy Schwob, she later changed her name three times, eventually settling on the gender-neutral name Claude Cahun. Her works, especially her photographed self-portraits, explore and challenge gender norms and ambiguity. Not only was she deeply involved in the Surrealist art movement of the time, but she also was an activist, secretly distributing anti-Nazi propaganda until she and her partner were eventually caught and imprisoned for years. After their homelands were liberated and they were freed, Cahun was unable to recover from her injuries and it wasn’t until after her death that some of her most revolutionary works were revealed to the world. Today she is remembered for her bravery and self-expression which is exemplified in her artwork that is now getting the long overdue attention it deserves.
“Under this mask, another mask, I will never be finished removing all these faces.”
Shadi Ghadirian is an Iranian photographer whose work, mostly portraiture, addresses the boundaries of traditional roles for women in her culture and universally. These often staged photographs of friends and family aim to point at and explore gender roles, identity, and censorship through often exaggerated and sarcastic scenes.
“My series are exactly like a mirror of my life. When I see me, I see the other women like me, my sisters my friends, the women in this country.”
Sandra Cisneros is a Chicana author who lives in both Mexico and the USA and is known for her many awards and writings including her book The House on Mango Street. Her work aims to highlight working-class people through its exploration of their lives and stories. She also founded two nonprofits, the Mocondo Foundation and the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation. Her works is internationally recognized and often used as required reading for middle schools and high schools across the nation.
“I am a woman, and I am a Latina. Those are the things that make my writing distinctive. Those are the things that give my writing power.”
Thank you for reading our #5WomenArtists 2021 picks! You can read previous years’ highlighted artists here:
South China Morning Post
Chennai Photo Biennale
Los Angeles Times