Creative women have been crucial to the evolution of design. Back in 1971, Lina Nochlin, a feminist art historian, asked “Why have there been no great women artists?” In honour of International Women’s Day, we pay tribute to 4 visionary women artists who succeeded against all odds, and whose contributions to the world of art have been indisputable.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we revisit these artists’ unique aesthetic in the form of carefully collated gift guides inspired by their creative geniuses.
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter whose highly imaginative, brooding, introspective paintings are emblematic of her struggle with a crippling accident and a grievous marriage to artist Diego Rivera. Her uncompromising, brilliant self-portraits dealt with such morbid themes as a suffering identity, the human body, pain, and death. Women artists before Kahlo had tried to portray such emotions through their work and were thus labelled hysterical or condemned insane, while men showcasing the same were deemed of a “melancholy” character. Breaking away from such stereotypes, Frida Kahlo remained artistically active under the infusions of surrealism, realism, creating layers of ambiguity, depth, and personal anguish that imprinted the artist as a feminist icon in history.
A Hungarian-Indian painter, Amrita Sher-gil has been called “one of the greatest avant-garde women artists of the 20th century” and a pioneer in modern Indian art. Often using her oeuvre to depict women in daily life, and women bonding with other women, Sher-gil’s renderings seemed to depict a sense of silent resolve, rarely seen in artistic depictions of women at that time. “Three Girls” shows women wearing passive expressions, their solemn faces bearing a despondent mood – in stark contrast to the bright coloured garments they’re wearing. Her self-portraits seem to cast her own self in a serious light, conscious of both the muse and the maker.
Called the “Mother of American Modernism”, Georgia O’Keefe is best known for her large-scale botanical depictions of flowers, painted as if looking through a magnifying glass, gifted with keen powers of observation and nuanced finesse with a paint brush. The Freudian theory that the flowers paintings were actual close studies of the female genitalia was something she denied all her life. The retrospective also stemmed from awareness that the contribution of women to 20th century art was still at risk of being overshadowed by men. Assertive as a woman but always keen to assert herself as an important artist, O’Keefe was a “multifaceted artist” delving into explorations in photography, music, and art at the same time.
The most successful woman artist alive, Kusama experienced “visual and aural hallucinations” from early childhood. She writes of her experience sat among a bed of violets. “One day, I suddenly looked up to find that each and every violet had its own individual, human-like facial expression, and to my astonishment they were all talking to me.” On other occasions, “suddenly things would be flashing and glittering all around me. So many different images leaped into my eyes that I was left dazzled and dumbfounded.” Whenever these hallucinations occurred, she would rush home and draw what she had seen. Kusama has claimed the highest auction prices of any living woman artist and is considered the most successful female living artist.
Mary Cassatt lived most of her life in France, where she befriended acclaimed artist Edgar Degas and later exhibited among the Impressionists. Often depicting social and private lives of women with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children, Cassatt was determined to overcome the bias against women artists at the time, and impatient with the slow pace of instruction and patronizing attitude of the male teachers and students, decided to study the Old Masters on her own.