Feminist art and artists are becoming a big part of contemporary art. For too long the art world has been male-dominated. But, in 2020, it’s waking up to women artists. Feminism has already changed history, but it still has a long way to go. This is where women artists continue to play a significant and vital role, furthering feminist causes through their work.
These 6 pioneering feminist artists highlight the complexities of being a woman, challenge stereotypes and channel their efforts towards gender equality.
Shani Rhys James
Welsh artist, Shani Rhys James MBE, paints self-portraits, interiors and still lifes in a frank, exuberant style. Her haunted subjects are dwarfed by wild wallpapers, anarchic floral bouquets and gigantic mirrors, giving a sinister and claustrophobic air to the narratives. Confronting expectations of femininity and domestic life, the familiar is subverted into something strange and unsettling. As the artist explains: “The female becomes part of the decoration; unable to be on the world stage she turns inward and obsesses about her interior space”.
Alexandra Gallagher is a British artist working across painting, street art, collage and photography. Inspired by Surrealism, her art explores realms of the subconscious, dreams, memory and the imagination. Focusing on female figures, she draws on issues of feminism, identity and sexuality. By layering stereotypical symbols of femininity – feathers, flowers, ribbons and the forbidden apple – in strange, dystopian surroundings she invites her viewer to question traditional female roles in society.
Caroline Walker is one of Britain’s best painters. A Royal College of Art graduate, she paints everyday life with striking realism and atmospheric lighting. Most often, Walker paints ‘invisible’ women at work, including in the home. She shines a spotlight on the unseen jobs performed by women, including housework. Inviting the viewer into quiet moments and intimate scenes, Walker complicates traditional ideas of the woman as the subject for art, exploring femininity and our heroines of today.
Jenni Granholm is a photographic artist from Finland. Her aesthetic, defined by deliberately soft pastel pinks, is unashamedly feminine. In self-portraits she plays with ribbons, exploring themes of restraint, entanglement and the desire for freedom, coupled with the fear of it – all bound to her personal experiences. In an empowering statement, she hides her face. Identifying as a feminist, she explains: “If society doesn’t value you for more than your appearance, how are you supposed to believe in yourself? Lack of confidence can bring much misfortune to life, or at least make you not live your life to your full potential”.
How should women behave? Roxana Hall asks this question and challenges conventions of femininity in her practice. Historically, women have appeared as passive beings of beauty in artworks, but in Hall’s paintings women emerge as active, empowered protagonists – often laughing, or eating, mouths open. Her performative subjects, including dressed up beauty queens, break the rules of polite expectation. Sabotaging historical female stereotypes, they appear to mock and subvert them – with glee.
South African artist Kirsten Lilford captures domestic life, leisure time and family outings. Painting from family photographs, she forefronts female protagonists in modern suburbia: at the swimming pool, in the garden, and looking after children. But there is a sinister, surreal and uncanny air to these works; in many of them the women almost melt into summer haze or shadows. Nothing is ever as simple or idyllic as it seems, her paintings warn.
Explore more work from contemporary feminist artists on Rise Art. Artwork from Alexandra Gallacher and Kirsten Lilford is available to buy, along with a range of powerful contemporary art from other artists like Joe Hesketh, Olivera Parlic and Delphine Lebourgeois. You can also take a look at our Women's history month collection.