6 Contemporary Artists Questioning Gender Norms

Posted in Inside Scoop by Ruth Millington on 11th June 2019

One current trend taking over the art world is gender. Many contemporary artists are using their practice to question gender norms. It reflects a wider societal shift: increasingly, we are challenging traditionally feminine and masculine ideals to blur boundaries. Meet 6 emerging figurative artists who re-define gender identity through depictions of the body, dress and everyday objects.

  1. Kim Leutwyler

Kim Leutwyler, ‘Watson’, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2018 © Kim Leutwyler


Sydney-based artist Kim Leutwyler is known for her colourful paintings of LGBTQ-identified and queer-allied women. Many of her subjects are close friends, pictured against bold patterns in a celebration of diversity. Androgyny, body art, gender confirmation surgery and piercings are not uncommon among the people you see in her work.

  1. Kehinde Wiley

You can follow Kehinde Wiley on Instagram @kehindewiley


Kehinde Wiley uses heroic portrait painting to address the image of young African-American men. His work challenges media representation of black masculinity as synonymous with violence. Instead, he embraces differences in gender. His subjects come casually dressed in everyday clothing, with tattoos and wristbands on show. Often painted against floral wallpapers, he powerfully repositions black male bodies as objects of desire, eroticism, and vulnerability.

  1. Olivera Parlic

Bloody Shoes’ is one of Olivera Parlic’s symbolic artworks which question gender and sexuality


Olivera Parlic is a Serbian artist who transforms everyday items into subversive sculptures. In many of her works, she displaces objects associated with domesticity, questioning the expected role of women in the home. In others, fetishistic sculptures are fashioned from hair, rubber gloves and high heels, highlighting – rather than suppressing­ – women’s sexual desire.

  1. Roxana Halls

 Roxana Halls, ‘Laughing While Eating Strawberries’ oil on linen, 2015 © Roxana Halls


Roxana Hall’s performative paintings depict women in the home. She disrupts the traditional setting by picturing her characters in surreal, strange and surprising poses. Often, you will see them with their mouths open (which is an extremely rare sight in any portrait). In place of demure, prettified housewives are loud, laughing women. Many of them appear slightly sinister.  

  1. Kim Jae Jun

 Kim Jae Jun, ‘I Was At a Loss’ oil and acrylic on canvas, 2015


Korean artist Kim Jae Jun’s surreal paintings are inspired by Korean K-pop culture and digital worlds. Hyper-sexualised bodies emerge from a modern dystopia which reflects on the internet era, contemporary culture and taboos. Instead of inviting the viewers’ gaze, erotic bodies are cut off and disrupted by thorny branches, animals or a car crash. Gender mutates within multiple narratives and strange juxtapositions.

  1. Joe Hesketh

Joe Hesketh, ‘Facebook’, oil painting, 2017


Joe Hesketh’s large, narrative paintings challenge clichés of women. Instead of portraying so-called ‘ideal’ figures, she paints strong women in all shapes and forms. In many of her images, she uses exaggerated, cartoon-like proportions to poke fun at the overly-sexualised representation of women in art history. 


Explore our subverting gender norms collection


Anna Sudbina | Where Abstract & Figurative Meet

Posted in In the Studio by George Greenhill on 07th June 2019

Anna was born in Moscow in 1984. She came of age in the post-Soviet Russia where apart from doing academic drawing and painting she studied linguistics, philosophy, and psychology. She continued her art training at Central Saint Martins. We catch up with Anna to discuss her life as an artist and how recent motherhood has affected her practice.


Anna Sudbina in her studio.


Your work shifts between the figurative and the abstract. How did your practice evolve to be like this?

I am drawn to abstract art as it communicates by bypassing the words and formalised understanding of the world. It is a meditation, a pure creative output that comes entirely from within. But at the same time, I find figurative elements in my work to be a powerful tool to trigger a response. It is like working with both cerebral hemispheres.


The Touch by Anna Sudbina


You often describe your work as drawing on philosophical ideas, contemporary science, the infinite and the unconscious. Could you explain how these themes have come to hold such prominence in your art?

The unconscious is a huge part of the non-representational part of my work. Something you are tapping into as an artist while working and something you are addressing through the canvas presented to the viewers. The rest is down to curiosity. I was always interested in understanding both the workings of our minds and the world around us. Not so much current affairs but timeless questions and the transcendent.


Elements by Anna Sudbina


As a new mother, how have you managed to spend time creating art?

Becoming a mother turns your world upside down and you lose yourself a bit. The first time I had 2 hours on my own to start a new work I faffed about so much I barely finished a pencil sketch. So motherhood forces you to become much more organised.


You also start appreciating the simple little things you took for granted - like sitting still and staring at the sky, a morning coffee ritual, a lazy afternoon. My latest series The Lightness Of Being is a collection of charming moments of dolce far niente that reflects this craving for idleness and hedonism.


Young Mother's Dream by Anna Sudbina. Part of the series The Lightness of Being available now.


Artists often find the prospect of starting a new canvas daunting, is this true with you?

You can’t be too precious with the white canvas, however perfect it is in its minimalist all-encompassing purity. I usually plan what I want to work on and gather some visual references before I approach the canvas and then start. Of course, there are moments of hesitation and self-doubt but I just remind myself I can always edit or start over. Like with the writers' block - the way out is to carry on working.


Coffee by Anna Sudbina


How do you push yourself to work outside your comfort zone?

Going from abstract to figurative was the biggest push in recent years. I’ve taught myself to paint a human body, technically it was definitely challenging and out of my comfort zone. I love experimenting with mark making in my abstract canvases. I’ve used vintage tools found in flea markets, feathers, clothes labels. Some really interesting textures came out of these experiments and certain developed techniques are now firmly part of my practice.


Petrichor by Anna Sudbina


If you could own any artwork from any artist, past or present, what would it be and why?  

The latest work I was obsessing about was by Pieter Vermeersch, I would love to have one of his gradients on a marble slab in my living room. I remember seeing it at Freeze for the first time and it was such an oasis of calm amongst the cacophony of visuals.


Browse Anna's Work

Unmissable London Exhibitions

Posted in Inside Scoop by Hector Campbell on 28th May 2019


Our Curator at Large, Hector Campbell, has been scouring every corner of London to find the best up-and-coming artistic talent. Discover Hector’s latest exhibition recommendations below.



Shadi Al-Atallah’s latest solo exhibition ‘Fuck, I’m Stuck!’ at J Hammond Projects in Archway,
North London, continues their exploration of queer and racial identity, as well as sexuality and
mental health, through a series of unapologetically explicit and intimate self-portraits. Currently
studying for an MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art, having previously completed their BA
at Camberwell College of Arts, Shadi draws upon their childhood in Saudi Arabia, and the
cultural and spiritual practices of their birthplace. As with their previous solo exhibition at Cob
Gallery (2018’s ‘Roadblocks’) the life-sized paintings on display in ‘Fuck, I’m Stuck!’ are
exhibited unstretched, devoid of structure, thus adding to the feelings of awkwardness and
unsureness depicted within the works themselves. For this latest series Shadi’s employs their
graphically autobiographical style to question the commonly conflicting psychological relationship to restraint and restriction, often at once lusted after and avoided in equal measure. ‘Fuck, I’m Stuck!’ runs until June 1st.

Shadi Al-Atallah, (L-R) ‘My mother’s second was a stillborn’, Mixed media on unstretched canvas, 2019, ‘It’s not that deep’, Mixed media on unstretched canvas, 2019, ‘Don’t look at me’, Mixed media on unstretched canvas, 2019. Installation view at J Hammond Projects. Image courtesy of the artist and J HAMMOND PROJECTS.




‘The Pothole’ at Standpoint Gallery in Hoxton, East London, marks Anna Reading’s receipt of
The Mark Tanner Sculpture Award, the prestigious award for emerging UK sculptors, with a
particular emphasis put on those artists whose work displays a dedication to both process and
materiality. Anna, the 16th recipient of the award, has transformed Standpoint gallery into an immersive environment of both stationary and kinetic sculpture, completed with a collaged vinyl
floor, that will be activated during the exhibitions run by a scheduled series of performative
interaction with the works. Utilizing commonly discarded quotidian materials such as cardboard,
packaging foam, gravel and chip forks, Anna employs upcycling as a way to demonstrate
humans skewed relationship to both the organic and the synthetic, the resulting sculptures
imbued with the tension between past and future, waste and use, decomposition and
rejuvenation. ‘The Pothole’ run until June 22nd, before touring to Cross Lane Projects, Kendal, Cumbria (November 1st - December 14th) and Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Centre, Greater
Manchester (March 7th - June 20th 2020).

Anna Reading ‘In Order to Protect’ (detail), Wood, foam, gravel, PVA, plaster, wire, jesmonite, pearl farm oyster shells, CT1, emulsion, 2019. Image courtesy of Standpoint Gallery.



For Adam Hennessey’s latest solo exhibition at New Art Projects in Cambridge Heath, East
London, the Turps painting school 2014/15 alumni is exhibiting paintings representative of a
single page in his new comic book ‘Blemish’. Both the comic and the exhibition tell the tale of
Adam’s cursory visit to the doctor for a sprained ankle that resulted in the discovery of a small
blemish on his body, and the ensuing physical and mental evolution that followed that
experience. Adam has also curated an accompanying exhibition ‘And Beyond’ that takes over
New Art Project’s other two basement gallery spaces. Artists whose work Adam believes to be
in line with his own are presented as a cross-section of his community of contemporaries,
including Roisin Fogarty, Grant Foster, Bruce Ingram and Matthew Krishanu.
‘Blemish’ + ‘And Beyond’ runs until June 29th.

Adam Hennessey, ‘Lockers that give you your 50p back’, Acrylic on canvas, 2019. Image courtesy of New Art Projects.



Nevine Mahmoud’s debut European solo exhibition ‘belly room’ at Soft Opening’s recently
opening Herald Street location in Bethnal Green presents five new sculptures fabricated from
the artist’s favoured materials of hand-blown glass and carved marble. Nevine has co-opted
these conventionally male-dominated disciplines and reappropriated the antiquated mediums to
convey her contemporary and conceptual ideology. Continuing her questioning of the ability of
the male gaze to fragment, fetishize and compartmentalise women’s body parts, ‘belly room’
features two works depicting dismembered yet delicate single glass breasts, as well as one
example from the artist’s popular series of busts. The marble works on display are similarly
erotically ambiguous, portraying a piece of fruit and a plastic children's slide, the marble forms
could equally be viewed as bodily forms, the interpretation of the curved surfaces and clean
crevices seductively suggestive. ‘Belly Room’ runs until June 30th.

Nevine Mahmoud, ‘bust (phantom Li)’, Hand-blown glass, resin, aluminium hardware’, 2019. Image courtesy of Soft Opening.




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