Written by Odilia Gramajo
Game changers in the arts community
Five years ago, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) started a social media campaign called #5WomenArtists in honor of Women’s History Month. #5WomenArtists challenges social media users to share art and information about artists that have left an impact around the world. The campaign’s purpose is to bring attention to the fact that, as artists, women have been underrepresented, undervalued, and neglected throughout history. In honor of Women’s History Month, here are five female artists you should definitely know.
Known as the “Mother of American Modernism,” Georgia O’Keeffe was an American artist who created many innovative works of art depicting images of America through dramatic cityscapes and glowing landscapes – as well as flowers. O’Keeffe studied the techniques of many other artists, including Arthur Wesley Dow, who was one of her biggest inspirations. Through her learning experience, O’Keeffe was encouraged to develop her own technique which included a combination of abstract and realism. Georgia O’Keeffe was the first female painter to achieve worldwide acclaim from the general public. She received many awards including a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford in 1977. Some of her most notable works include “Black Iris III,” “Radiator building – Night, New York,” “Blue and Green Music,” and “Summer Days.”
“To create one's world in any of the arts takes courage.” – Georgia O’Keeffe
Gwendolyn B. Bennett
Gwendolyn B. Bennett was an African American artist and writer who was a major creative force on the Harlem Renaissance. Often overlooked as an artist, Bennett was a respected and accomplished poet during her era. Gwendolyn Bennett helped energize the Harlem Renaissance with her literature. Some of her short stories include “Poets evenings,” which helped many African Americans come to terms with identifying and accepting themselves, and “Wedding Day,” which highlighted the effects of different racial groups not getting along. Bennett was also a teacher who helped nurture and foster the talents of young African American artists. Although she was more known for her writing, Bennet painted amazing artworks of landscapes. Some of her works include “Winter Landscape” and “Untitled (River Landscape).”
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter who achieved international success. Best known for her self-portraits, Kahlo was influenced by traditional Mexican folk art as well as European movements such as realism and symbolism. Kahlo did not intend to become a professional painter until after she was severely injured in a bus accident at the age of 18. In order to cope with recovery, Kahlo used her time to paint and continued to do so throughout her life to express her pain and suffering. Kahlo also became interested in politics which led her to join the Mexican Communist Party in 1927 where she met her husband Diego Rivera who inspired some of her works. Some of her most notable works include “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird,” “Memory, the Heart,” “Henry Ford Hospital” and “Frieda and Diego Rivera.”
“My painting carries with it the message of pain” – Frida Kahlo
Elizabeth Catlett once said, “I have always wanted my art to serve my people—to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential.” Catlett was an African American Mexican sculptor and graphic artist best known for her depictions of the African American female experience. As the granddaughter of former slaves, Elizabeth Catlett was very interested in the Civil Rights movement which influenced many of her works. She was a graduate of Howard University after being rejected by the Carnegie Institute of Technology due to her race. After receiving a grant from the Rosenwald Foundation in 1946, Catlett moved to Mexico with her husband where she continued to work. Some of her works include “Mother and Child,” “Head of a Woman,” “Singing Their Songs,” and “I Have Worked Hard in America.”
"I wanted to show the history of all kinds of black women. Working women, country women, urban women, great women in the history of the United States.” – Elizabeth Catlett
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese contemporary artist who is best known for her sculptures and installations. Kusama also engages in painting, performance, film, poetry and many other arts. Most of Kusama’s art was influenced by hallucinations she had as a child. Kusama was born in Japan where she learned traditional Japanese painting style and later moved to New York City where she was inspired by American abstract impressionism and the pop-art movement. Yayoi Kusama became an art pioneer as she included minimalism, performance, and action art into her work. Some of her most notable artworks include “Dots Obsession,” “Fireflies on the Water,” “Pumpkin” and “Infinity Mirrored Room.”
“My art originates from hallucinations only I can see.” – Yayoi Kusama
The artists mentioned above were each important in several ways. O’Keeffe was important because she was the first woman to really receive worldwide recognition, showing other creators that worldwide acclaim was achievable for women. Bennett was important because she used art as a way to push an important movement that helped African Americans gain recognition in the arts community. Kahlo was important not only because she taught young females to use art as a medium for self-expression, but also because she is a feminist icon to many. Catlett was also important because, through her art, she became an activist for the African American experience. Lastly, Kusama is important because she is a trailblazer in contemporary art.
These five women came from different races, backgrounds and education - and use different art mediums - but they have all impacted the arts in one way or another. For centuries, female artists were underrepresented, undervalued, and neglected but these women were able to garnish attention for female artistry all around the world. These are five artists you should know.