Why there are so few women artists in the art world?

24 минут Айдана Курмангалиева
Альтернативный текст

Historically, it has always been difficult for women to build a successful art career. To get at least some recognition, women used male pseudonyms, or exhibited under the names of their husbands. For example, Judith Leister once used the male pseudonym Frans Hals, and the talented Margaret Keen hid under the name of her husband Walter Keen. 

To find out why this happened and whether the situation has changed today, we talked with the founders and Ambassador of the WAAW World initiative — Dana Quan, Annya Sand, and Catherine Hunt.

Annya Sand  — artist, co-founder of WAAW World. Author of dissertation about gender misrepresentation in the art world for masters Arts and Cultural Enterprise at Central Saint Martins UAL.

Catherine Hunt —  co-founder of WAAW World, former co-chair and founding patron of Young Patrons Circle of V&A Museum. Sarabande Foundation and WELLCHILD ambassadors. Producer of Cultural Events.

Dana Quan — WAAW World founding global ambassador and honorary committee member. WAAW World Media Communications for Central Asia, United Kingdom, and Africa. Independent strategy creative advisor and executive leadership coach for entrepreneurs & business professionals.

What does WAAW stand for and how was it born?

Annya: During Covid, I was finishing my dissertation for Arts & Cultural Enterprise Masters at Central Saint Martins, I took a walk with a friend and fellow committee member of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Catherine Hunt and we were discussing my findings, and research on gender imbalance for female artists in the art world. 

Fuelled by our frustration about the inequality that my research shed light on, that very day we took a bold step towards making the art world fairer and more inclusive by creating a community called Women Artists’ Art Week, abbreviated as WAAW. 

Catherine: WAAW launched on International Women's Day in 2022 with an array of support from women in the arts, gallerists, and institutions. We are dedicated to lobbying galleries to take on more female artists in the future. WAAW was born out of the need to champion women artists and encourage galleries to support them in having a more stable career as artists.

Dana: Being invited to join WAAW on the significant day of its launch in 2022, especially during International Women’s Day, was truly memorable. Furthermore, being appointed by my dear & talented friends Annya & Catherine to be on the honorary committee and serve as a founding ambassador in Kazakhstan, Africa, and the UK is an incredible opportunity. It allows me to represent and support the WAAW movement actively, fostering its values through transparent communication, meaningful engagements, and influential advocacy.

This involvement aims to create international exposure, paving the way for more sustainable and creative opportunities to flourish.

Why is the WAAW World important?

Annya: Here is a quick glimpse of the problem that women artists have been facing for decades, and even in modern times when we might think that this should no longer be the case: Galleries and museums are full of world-famous artwork, but women have long been underrepresented in the art world and on their walls. Why? For starters, there’s the fact that until the 20th century, women were generally excluded from art academies and highly-prized apprenticeships, where men were trained in arts such as painting and sculpture.

Gender bias remains a major problem in the modern art world. In 2017, female artists accounted for just 4% of the National Gallery of Scotland’s collection and 20% of the Whitworth Manchester’s, and less than a quarter (22%) of solo shows presented by London’s major commercial galleries were by women artists. 

According to a report by the Freedlands Foundation, women continue to be excluded from the mainstream commercial art market despite their best efforts to participate. These grim statistics make it all the more important to search out and support exhibitions featuring work by female artists, past and present. Things may be slowly getting better but it is still not enough. For example, reports by Artsy find that work by women accounted for less than 9.8% of global auction sales in 2022. If you ask me it is still not good enough, frankly, it's embarrassing.

We see an increase in female artists' representation every year. Do you think gender equality in the art world is a realistic goal and does gender play a role in the quality of art?

Annya: It is 100% realistic, that is why we started the WAAW movement, to get there faster.

Gender is irrelevant when it comes to the quality of art. 

What is the typical career path for a female artist these days?

Catherine: Ultimately we have seen from the statistics that approximately 90% of artists graduating do not go on to have a career as an artist as they cannot afford the time, resources, or support. So they either can’t get off the ground as an artist or as soon as they have children and get married they get written off by the art market.

Dana: Statistically, the career path for female artists often involves pursuing formal education in fine arts, building a strong portfolio, participating in exhibitions, networking, gaining representation, and continuously developing their craft. It is all about building a consistent, dedicated will to believe and be present & active which sometimes involves gaining support, therefore success for female artists often supported by mentorship, access to funding, inclusive opportunities, breaking gender biases, supportive communities, and platforms that promote their work, these are all values which WAAW embedded in their core philosophy to make a sustainable and gradual change towards better future. 

What countries are participating in the WAAW World movement and what are the reasons behind choosing specifically 8-15th of June week?

Annya: We are very lucky to have galleries participating in WAAW all over the world – in the U.K., Europe, America, The Gulf, Central Asia, and Africa.

The WAAW World initiative is open to all commercial art galleries and non-commercial art institutions that are willing to showcase on their premises only female artists for one week — June 8-15 annually. WAAW’s main mission is to encourage commercial art galleries and art institutions to showcase solely female artists during at least one week of the year, on an annual basis. And trust me, only 1 week was a lot to ask for back when we started. 

Art institutions and museums also have the option to record videos about their collection of art by female artists (like Pallant House for example) show studios of female artists (like the Somerset House kindly did for us) or even just endorse us (as Unesco, The British Arts Council and British Art Market Federation did).

WAAW World community a curators led tour of Parasol Foundation at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

WAAW World bus tour in support of female artists in London, 2022

As we can see there is a gallery in Kazakhstan that is taking part in the WAAW World movement, could you please tell us more about it?

Annya: We are incredibly excited to have YEMAA Centre of Contemporary Culture joining WAAW. YEMAA has a big focus on developing national contemporary art education and the formation of regional culture. 

Dana: The YEMAA Center for Contemporary Culture is a multidisciplinary open space aimed at promoting contemporary culture in the Western region of Kazakhstan. In two years of activity, the center's team has held 10 exhibitions of contemporary art and successfully worked with 30 artists and curators from all over Kazakhstan.

"I am glad to see that the YEMAA Center has become a new place for the synthesis of innovations, ideas and experience in Atyrau. Our team is always open to new collaborations and the creation of social networks in the art industry. For us, networking is one of the important tools both for introducing modern culture into everyday life and for obtaining invaluable practices from everyday life for integration and transformation in modern culture and art.

I am glad to be a part of the movement supporting women in the arts. This is a very rewarding and completely difficult task. After all, quite often you come across stereotypes and envy, which create a lot of doubts and worries. A woman needs to receive support in the form of respect, faith and love for her work and activities. I thank Dana Quan for telling me about the WAAW movement and inviting me to join. This is especially significant for me, since the YEMAA center was founded by two women — me and Asel Akhmetzhanova. For the first two years of its activity, the center's team consisted exclusively of women", — said Malika, the co-founder of YEMAA, shared.

What goes into organizing the WAAW World Week each year and what are the difficulties?

Annya: We work incredibly hard throughout the year to prepare for just one week in June, as we also have our full-time jobs and family commitments. We were very clear from the start that we wanted our initiative to have a long life and impact the art world as much as possible over time, so we had to make it financially and time-sustainable for us to pursue this dream together with our everyday life commitments and work. 

We keep working on WAAW World but it’s also forming its world of belonging. It’s almost like watching a child grow and helping to empower its character. It is also essential for us to make sure that the WAAW initiative is environmentally sustainable and that is why we ask galleries and institutions to host exhibitions at their premises. 

How do galleries choose a topic for exhibition during the WAAW World Week?

Annya: WAAW World does not get involved in the curating process of galleries (unless we are asked to suggest artists). As long as the artists are women, we did not want to give anyone a reason to say that we have preferential treatment. We also wanted to have as diverse a range of galleries as possible in terms of locations, budgets, and so on to ensure a diverse selection of artists represented by those galleries. 

Bowman Sculpture in collaboration with the Guerin Proiects 'The Power of She - A Tribute to Women in the Arts' talk and performance by Prima Ballerina of the English National Ballet Natascha Mair accompanied by violinist and composer Yury Revich, Supporting WAAW initiative

How can galleries, artists, and viewers take part in the WAAW World?

Annya: To join our movement, galleries need to register using this link or write on Instagram

How did WAAW World change galleries?

Annya: After taking part in WAAW a lot of the galleries committed to 50/50% representation, which is a great achievement for the art world.

“Beyond the gallery walls, our involvement in WAAW London resonates on a broader scale, signaling the flourishing East African art scene's global impact. Illuminating the talent of female artists from this region is our contribution to a global dialogue on gender equality in the arts, fostering recognition and support for African art on the international stage. In essence, our participation in WAAW is a commitment to shaping a more inclusive art world, where every artist has the opportunity to thrive, regardless of gender or origin. We eagerly anticipate the continued growth of this movement and its positive impact on the arts in Africa and beyond. Moreover, thanks to WAAW World, our once little-known gallery received a mention in Forbes in 2023, marking a significant milestone in our journey", — said Lorna Mashiba Albu, founder of Rangi Gallery.

“I met the co-founders of WAAW, Annya Sand and Catherine Hunt, in the gallery about two years ago. They mentioned their idea to encourage galleries across London to exhibit solely female artists in July to help advance gender equality. I eagerly took up the opportunity to work with them and hosted an all-female group exhibition for their inaugural month. We reached out to new artists specifically for the show and have since continued to work with them, resulting in some stellar solo exhibitions by Sophie-Yen Bretez, Ming Ying, and Ayanfe Olarinde. WAAW was such a pleasure to work with, and we have continued to conceptualize new ways of working together in the future", — said Annie Pereira, director of the gallery in London, in an interview for Art Plugged.

Q&A in support of WAAW World at the JDMalat Gallery, London, 2023

What does the WAAW team do for the rest of the year?

Dana: The WAAW world team sustains the initiative's momentum throughout the whole year, creating continuous opportunities, engaging Art Galleries, art Institutions, and organizations to connect and create win-win partnerships, and educational initiatives, and find further ways to support the initiative's mission and build transparent and honest communications where we feel as part of one WAAW World community, where everyone feels valued.

Catherine: On various occasions throughout the year WAAW has satellite events hosted by institutions and galleries globally from LA Frieze to Miami Basel and more recently Paris Plus a beautiful lunch hosted by our Paris Ambassador, Petra Brunka with attendees from Cartier Foundation and French Institutions. We are planning a great event within revolt exhibition for the new year also. We continue to flood our channels and share with our community great information about women's exhibitions and women in the arts events and ask WAAW participating galleries to share information with us so we can offer social press too. 

In conversation with WAAW World at the Venice Biennale 2022

Annya Sand, Catherine Hunt, Dana Quan at the WAAW World walking tour with The Line London 2022

How do you see WAAW in 10, 20 & 50 years?

Annya: In 10 years a global celebration of female artists in all galleries and art institutions for at least a week of 8-15th of June annually. In 50 years a complete norm of female artists showing and earning at least as much (or more) as male artists.

Dana: In 10, 20 years of exponential progress, where female artists feel the change for better representation, more opportunities to showcase and earn more, and of course continuity in being part of the WAAWWorld movement towards creating the change for the better.

What does WAAW World mean specifically for you?

Annya: To me, it is a live art project with an urgent social impact

Dana: WAAW Wold means more than just a movement, it is a bold invitation to celebrate women, and female artists, creating more opportunities on a global scale and engaging people to be part of this beautiful journey. 

What was the response after the first week of WAAW?

Annya: Ah, it was incredible! Positively overwhelming! We did not expect to get so much happiness and support. The first week was a clear sign of the need for WAAW World.

Dana: It was so wonderful to feel so much support, from incredible organizations, female leaders, art institutions, and entrepreneurs during the WAAW London week, where genuine and meaningful connections are made, we felt how deeply & well resonated with the London audience and naturally it led to creating a WAAWWORLD as a Global Movement, where unity to support female artists globally is the core foundation.  

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