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2 trailblazing women in contemporary art in 2021

Women in contemporary art

Let’s look at two women in contemporary art who are turning heads. Women have created a phenomenal amount of inspiring, innovative, and creative artworks during the last few centuries alone. If you browse the pages of many books about art history, though, you could easily miss this fact. Hopefully, in time, women will receive the long-overdue recognition in pages of history books.

Thankfully, women are starting to get the respect deserved today. Had creative geniuses like the artist Dorit Levinstein been alive 200 years ago, nobody would have taken her work seriously. It is truly saddening to imagine the number of works created by women lost to time due to the inequality accepted as the norm for centuries.

It’s no wonder that some women used a nom de plume, such as author George Eliot. Her real name was Mary Ann Evans, and she was one of the first female authors to choose to write using a male pen name. Mary wanted to avoid the prevalent stereotype at the time of women’s writings as only lighthearted romances.

Mary Ann Evans, under the name of George Eliot, went on to be one of the most celebrated authors of the Victorian era. So many women paved the way for artists today. Here are two women in contemporary art to take note of:

Marina Abramović

She was born in what is now Belgrade, Serbia. Marina Abramović received much skepticism in her early years as an artist.

In her home country, part of the former Yugoslavia, the people, in general, found it challenging to understand her work. Thankfully for the art world, Marina, who calls herself the “grandmother of performance art,” had faith in her work and decided to seek recognition elsewhere.

Marina spent time in several countries during the 1960s and 1970s before finally settling in the city of Amsterdam, Holland, in 1976. Abramović has now been a leading figure in the world of modern art for over four decades, mainly producing works that celebrate the female body, feminist art, and endurance art.

One of her most unusual but well-known performances was named Rhythm 0. She performed it in 1974. It became the first in a series of Rhythm performances, but it is this first one that has gained the most attention and notoriety during the years since.

During the performance, Marina presented her audience with 72 objects. She then asked them to do whatever they liked to her body using them.

It’s easy to see why this might have been controversial in 1974. However, even then, Amsterdam was one of the most liberal cities globally and the perfect place to host this show.

By the time the evening finished, Marina’s audience had spent six hours using objects capable of inflicting pain, giving pleasure, or even severely harming her. The items included a rose, a feather, honey, a whip, olive oil, scissors, a scalpel, a gun, and a single bullet.

Marina has toned down her art somewhat since then. But, even today, at the age of 74, she is still producing thought-provoking work. She is fully deserving of her place in this piece on trailblazing women in contemporary art.

Cindy Sherman

This American artist is primarily known for photography. But to limit Cindy Sherman’s work to only photography is seriously understating what she does.

The majority of her work consists of self-portraits, where she obviously serves as the model, but also as her own stylist, costume designer, and hair and makeup stylist.

Cindy Sherman doesn’t just deal with the human side, either. She is also in charge of managing the camera and editing the results.

Her Untitled Film Stills series features 70 black-and-white photographs created between 1977 and 1980. This collection captures Cindy assuming the roles of a host of stereotypical female film roles that angered her during the previous two decades.

What kind of roles persuaded her to create these images? There’s the typical blonde bombshell, easily-abused office girl, bored housewife, and lady of the night. There is also a rebellious female teenager and countless other clichés that are still used in films today.

Interestingly, Sherman was never trying to point to any kind of problem of gender disparity or inequality. Instead, she focuses on the ideas of female identity, femininity, and what it has meant to be a woman at various points throughout her life.

Further reading

Many more women artists genuinely deserve mention when discussing the women dominating contemporary art today. Japan’s Yayoi Kusama and US artist Barbera Kruger are two more who instantly spring to mind. But even this is not enough; women’s art deserves the same recognition as men’s, and whole books could and should be written about this topic.

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