With art events taking place across Asia to mark International Women’s Day 2013, female artists are becoming increasingly visible both in the region and beyond.
In celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2013, art institutions, galleries and festivals from Hong Kong to Moscow brought together artworks and female artists to explore women’s position in the arts and in society. These events join several recent exhibitions focusing on art made by women in Asia.
Women’s art celebrates Women’s Day
In Hong Kong
To mark International Women’s Day 2013, Hong Kong’s Sundaram Tagore Gallery opened “8 Women/8 Stories”, 8 March to 7 April 2013, in which they showcase the work of eight trans-cultural, trans-generational female artists. Described in the gallery’s press release as “a tribute to the achievements of these internationally renowned artists”, the exhibition includes artists such as New York-based Miya Ando, a descendent of Samurai-era Japanese swordsmiths who creates her artworks from industrial steel, and Iranian Golnaz Fathi, a trained calligrapher whose works transform the written word into abstract forms.
Also in Hong Kong, the Asia Society held, on 8 March 2013, a panel discussion addressing women’s position in the arts to mark the day. Amongst the participants was Lalla Essaydi, a Moroccan-born artist whose work explores the image of woman in Islamic society and, claims Essaydi herself, invites viewers to resist stereotypes.
Feminist art histories in Russia
The Manezh Museum and Exhibition Centre, Moscow, also celebrated Women’s Day 2013, putting together “the largest feminist exhibition in Russia”, according to organisers. “Feminism: from avant-garde to the present” opened on 7 March 2013 and features works by self-identifying feminists such as Guerrilla Girls, avant-garde artists like Lyubov Popova, as well as male artist Alexander Rodchenko, whose photographs depict liberated Soviet women. Co-curator Olesya Turkina, in an article for Russian culture journal Calvert, wrote that the aim of the exhibition was to show “that feminism works in favour of general equality, not against it“.
South Asian artists support Women’s Day
The American Centre in New Delhi brought together the work of Asian female artists for “SRI: multiple feminisms counter multiple patriarchies” (8 March to 30 March 2013). Focusing on Indian and South Asian artists whose works, according to the organisers, “redefine ‘gender’ and ‘body’ in South Asia, and the notion of women’s empowerment in the contemporary world”, the exhibition features artists such as Shilpa Gupta and Amina Ahmed.
Female artists make waves across Asia
The events marking 2013’s International Women’s Day add to the number of recent exhibitions focusing on art made by women or addressing notions of gendered identity in Asia. “Women In-Between: Asian women artists 1984-2012” (26 January to 24 March 2013, Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Japan) highlights 48 Asian female artists, showing 110 works based on the artists’ various experiences of socialised gender roles. Across Asia, according to the Museum’s website, the increased visibility of both female artists and artworks exploring issues of femininity and gender is attributable to rapid social changes, which have led to “unprecedented structural shifts to [sic] the relationship between women and society, as well as between Asia and the rest of the world”.
Philippine artist Lee Paje also explores gender and identity in “Bigoted” (15 March to 3 April 2013), her first solo show at Manila Contemporary. Paje’s sculptural installations of male and female torsos, which destabilise gendered iconography and social norms, examine discrimination from the perspective of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) communities in Southeast Asia.
Asian female artists are also making waves outside the region. Philadelphia’s Asian Arts Initiative is showing “That Person who is your Creation” (19 February to 26 April), a collaboration among Iranian female artists which is intended as a challenge to both Eastern and Western preconceived ideas about female identity (PDF download), according to a press release.
Art against oppression
Some female artists in the region are turning to art as a means of personal expression in the face of discrimination. Afghan Malina Suliman works in Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban, creating pieces that tell of the country’s recent violent history. Her painting Today’s Life, which depicts an unborn foetus, reflects the artist’s frustrations about gender stereotypes. “Before a child is born,” Suliman explained to Reuters, “the parents are already thinking that a son can support them and a daughter can be married off to a wealthy suitor. They don’t stop to think what the child may want.”
Click here to watch a short interview with Afghan artist Malina Suliman, published on Reuters on 29 January 2013.
Female artists in India found a platform from which to voice their concerns about gender discrimination at the recent Asian Women’s Film Festival in New Delhi (5 to 7 March 2013). The event, which culminated in a march through the city on International Women’s Day 2013, featured an exhibition, installations and screenings which explored taboo issues such as rape and female genital mutilation in India. Event organiser Anupama Srinivasan suggested that recent events such as the Delhi gang rape and murder of a female student in December 2012 have ignited a resurgent feminist movement among Asia’s artists.
Did you attend the Asia Society’s panel discussion on women in the arts, or any of the exhibitions marking International Women’s Day 2013? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below.
- Artists Navjot, Wu Mali discuss links between art, social change – museum talk – November 2012 – Can feminist art really exact social change? An Indian and a Taiwanese artist talk it out
- Saudi Arabia’s Alaan Artspace opens with feminist exhibition – The National – October 2012 – fresh art spaces spearhead Middle Eastern art renaissance
- Shirin Neshat’s inspiration from home – TED video – December 2011 – female video artist talks about the women who inspired her even in exile
- 12th Istanbul Biennial: women artists and emerging regions stand out – November 2011 – female artists from Middle East highlight of show
- Documentary and art photography crossover exhibition attempts to portray alternate realities of war – October 2010 – recent Middle Eastern history examined by photographers
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