5 Fast Facts About #5WomenArtists Changing the World: Kara Walker

Multidisciplinary artist Kara Walker (b. 1969) candidly investigates topics of race, gender, sexuality, and violence. While best known for her panoramic, cut-paper silhouettes, she has also produced large-scale sculptural installations, videos, paintings, and shadow puppets that address the history—and psychological impacts—of American slavery and racism.

An open spread of a pop-up book featuring one of Walker's signature black-and-white cut-paper silhouettes which shows a female slave holding a bucket to, presumably, her master, who sits on, presumably, a big pile of cotton while a young boy slave is on the other side holding a bag of cotton. In the distance another female slave picks cotton in front of a heap. Text from the narrative is positioned on both the right and left pages in the upper corners.

Kara Walker, Freedom, A Fable: A Curious Interpretation of the Wit of a Negress in Troubled Times, 1997; Ink on paper, laser-cut black card stock, leather binding, 8 1/4 x 9 1/2 in.; NMWA; © Ellie Bronson

Share your favorite women artists working for racial justice on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook using the hashtag #5WomenArtists and tagging @WomenInTheArts.

1. All Consuming

Walker does not believe that her provocative and historically inspired art “deals with history,” but rather that it responds to history. “Embedded in that statement, ‘Kara Walker is dealing with history,’ is this…desire for a hero who can fix this problem of our history and racism,” says Walker in an Art21 interview. “I don’t think my work is actually effectively dealing with history. I think of my work as subsumed…or consumed by history.”

2. Artist/Author

Walker often includes writing and storytelling in her artwork. Her pop-up book Freedom, A Fable: A Curious Interpretation of the Wit of a Negress in Troubled Times (1997), part of NMWA’s artists’ book collection, tells the story of a freed female slave. And in 2001, Walker created a series of short, diary-like writings on index cards that were exhibited in American Primitive at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. One card reads, “We are Superman. Venus, Oprah, Toni, Angela, Tina, Serena, Kara…We End in Vowel sounds and Our names Last Forever when you speak them aaah!”

3. Socially Aware Curator

In 2006, the Metropolitan Museum of Art invited Walker to curate an exhibition using its permanent collection. Walker titled the show After the Deluge as a response to the horrors of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. She juxtaposed paintings of churning water, including Winslow Homer’s Gulf Stream (1899), with her own print portfolio to address the external forces that shape and transform Black life, including “the sea, the slave trade, and the failure of retaining walls.”

4. Illustrating a Libretto

In 2011, Walker’s friend Alicia Hall Moran was cast as Bess in the opera Porgy and Bess. Walker sat in on run-throughs to sketch the show and was eventually asked to create illustrations for a limited-edition libretto. The resulting sixteen lithographs are “…more an homage to the feeling of the music” rather than addressing the show’s stereotypical portrayals of African Americans. Walker notes that Porgy and Bess “lives in a murky place in popular culture and personal reflection.”

Embed from Getty Images

5. Unsweet History

In 2014, Walker and her team built the monumental sugar sculpture A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby in the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. The giant sphinx was a monument to the slaves whose labor built the sugar industry. In the heat of the summer, the sphinx and the smaller life-size sculptures of children began to melt. “I really love the fact of these figures melting and dripping,” said Walker. “[The figures and the factory are] still sort of weeping the substance.”

—Hannah Southern is the fall 2019 publications and communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts About #5WomenArtists Changing the World: Susan Goethel Campbell

Multidisciplinary artist Susan Goethel Campbell (b. 1956) creates installations, videos, prints, drawings, and artists’ books to highlight the indistinguishable characteristics of nature, culture, and the built environment. Campbell blurs the lines between these elements, documenting our changing planet and population and visualizing the intimate, ever-changing relationship between nature and human society.

Goethel Campbell_Ark 1

Susan Goethel Campbell, After the Deluge: The Post-Ark Report, 2002; Photoetching with aquatint and chine colle, 14 x 11 x 1 in.; NMWA, Museum Purchase; © Susan Goethel Campbell

Goethel Campbell_ Ark 2

Susan Goethel Campbell, After the Deluge: The Post-Ark Report, 2002; Photoetching with aquatint and chine colle, 14 x 11 x 1 in.; NMWA, Museum Purchase; © Susan Goethel Campbell

Share your favorite women artists working for climate justice on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook using the hashtag #5WomenArtists and tagging @WomenInTheArts.

1. Foundational Influences

Campbell has spent most of her adult life in Detroit, Michigan, and cites paintings in the Detroit Institute of Arts as having stylistic influence on her own works. Frederic Edwin Church’s Cotopaxi (1862) is one she would “look at and respond to over many years.” Campbell has also mentioned James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket (1875), which depicts an atmospheric event, as a major influence on her own explorations of landscape.

2. The Art of Repurposing

In her “Grounds” series, Campbell explores the unexpected beauty between natural and manmade forms. Campbell grew sod inside consumer packaging until it took the shape of the containers. She then upended and freeze-dried the forms, which released them from the packaging and liberated the root mass. This series demonstrates an interconnectivity between organic matter and post-consumer debris.

3. Biblical Proportions

Part of NMWA’s extensive artists’ books collection, Campbell’s After the Deluge: The Post-Ark Report (2002) is loosely based on the biblical tale of Noah’s ark. Campbell’s retelling reveals the fates of various animal species in the 21st century. The poetic—and sometimes cheeky—narrative draws on text and clippings from the New York Times and Detroit Free Press and underscores the impact of human encroachment on animal habitats.

An open view of Susan Goethel Campbell's artists' book RIM, which is made from magnetic sheeting and opens to form a circle around a hollow core. The inside panels of the circle contain rural landscape painting with handwritten text over the images. The outside are covered in magnetic sheeting. The cover of the book, which simply says "RIM" is positioned in the center of the start of the circle.

Campbell’s artists’ book Rim (2000) addresses suburban sprawl, population density, and the loss of undeveloped land in Detroit

4. Reading the Sky

In 2009, Campbell set up a camera on the 22nd floor of Detroit’s Fisher Building to take one photo each minute for an entire year. She then compressed the files into a three-hour video. The resulting installation, Detroit Weather: 365 Days, documents the ways in which weather and industry affect one another. Campbell said, “You can…see stacks from the Ford Rouge Plant and Zug Island pumping out emissions and intersecting with weather patterns.”

5. Forces of Nature

Campbell is consistently inspired by the oscillating nature of Detroit’s landscape. “To watch the landscape change quite drastically by plant life has been largely influential throughout most of my time here. That cyclical process of something manmade being reclaimed by nature has been a really powerful influence on my work.”

—Alexa Kasner is the is the spring 2020 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts About #5WomenArtists Changing the World: Guerrilla Girls

Since 1985, the Guerrilla Girls, a collective of anonymous feminist activist artists, have brought widespread attention to the issues of sexism and racism in the art world. By disrupting mainstream culture and media with posters, billboards, publications, social media, public appearances, and exhibitions, this group calls out bias—and advocates for gender equity—in art, film, pop culture, and even politics.

A black and white ad that features an empty left hand side of the page and an all-caps vertical message on the right hand side that says "You're Seeing Less Than Half the Picture." Under that, also in all caps it reads "Without the vision of women artists and artists of color." Below that is Guerrila Girls name in bold caps followed by "Conscience of the Art World."

Guerrilla Girls, You’re seeing less than half the picture… (from the series “Guerrilla Girls Talk Back: The First Five Years, 1985–1990”), 1989; Photolithograph on paper, 17 x 22 in.; NMWA, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay

Share your favorite women artists working for gender equity on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook using the hashtag #5WomenArtists and tagging @WomenInTheArts.

1. The Conscience of the Art World

The Guerrilla Girls address systemic discrimination by “revealing the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, and the downright unfair.” Though members obfuscate their identities by wearing gorilla masks and adopting the names of deceased—and often forgotten—woman artists, the collective isn’t shy about shaming specific collectors, critics, museums, galleries, and publications for their problematic practices.

2. Creative Complaining

The group reveals shocking statistics and presents them with sardonic wit and surprising graphics. This strategy shakes audiences out of complacency and encourages action. One famous tactic—the museum “weenie count”—juxtaposes the percentage of female artists whose work is on view with the percentage of nude women, painted by men, on display. Try this revealing exercise during your next museum visit.

GG viewers

Visitors observe a selection of Guerrilla Girls' posters in NMWA's collection; Photo by Kevin Allen

hormone imbalance_melanin def

Guerrilla Girls, Hormone imbalance. Melanin deficiency. (from the series "Guerrilla Girls Talk Back: Portfolio 2"), 1993; Ink on postcard, 17 x 11 in.; NMWA, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay

horror on natl mall_GG

Guerrilla Girls, Horror on the National Mall!, 2007; Color photolithograph on paper, 23 x 13 in.; NMWA, Gift of Susan Fisher Sterling in honor of Steven Scott; © Guerrilla Girls, Courtesy of www.guerrillagirls.com; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Guerrilla Girls_pop quiz march

Guerrilla Girls, Guerrilla Girls' Pop Quiz (from the series "Guerrilla Girls Talk Back: The First Five Years, 1985–1990), 1987; Photolithograph on paper, 17 x 22 in.; NMWA, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay

3. The Only “ism” Here is Feminism!
By 1989, when the Guerrilla Girls created When Racism And Sexism Are No Longer Fashionable…, NMWA already owned artworks by 34 of the artists named. Today, the museum’s collection features works by more than 1,000 artists, including 46 of those mentioned. Can you find artwork by artists on that list at your favorite museum? If not, ask why!

4. Not OK!

While the Guerrilla Girls initially addressed the lack of diversity in the New York art world, the group’s work has grown to point out inequities throughout the U.S. and abroad. In 2007, the collective collaborated with the Washington Post to admonish “boy crazy” federally funded D.C. arts institutions. The capitol city’s top art museums held very few pieces of art by women, with most of it kept in storage, not on display.

5. Guerrillas in Our Midst

NMWA hosted a special exhibition, The Guerrilla Girls Talk Back, in 2011, featuring a selection of the museum’s 84 works by the collective. Today, several of their works are on view in the thematic collection gallery “Rebels with a Cause”—swing by the museum to see them in person.

—Adrienne L. Gayoso is the senior educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

#5WomenArtists 2020: Women Artists Changing the World

Since 2016, the National Museum of Women in the Arts has posed a simple question on social media for Women’s History Month: Can you name five women artists? Using the hashtag #5WomenArtists, the campaign spotlights the lives and work of women artists, historical and contemporary. It also calls attention to the fact that women artists remain dramatically underrepresented—and their work undervalued—in galleries, museums, and auction houses around the world.

#5WomenArtists is back for a fifth year with a focus on women artists who address social issues; Clockwise (from top-left corner): Guerrilla Girls, Kiki Kogelnik, Ambreen Butt, Jennifer Celio, Cindy Sherman, Susan Goethel Campbell, Alma Thomas, Mickalene Thomas, Mónica Mayer, Amy Sherald, Tanya Habjouqa, Judy Chicago, Barbara Kruger, Betsabeé Romero, Faith Ringgold, Nan Goldin, Jami Porter Lara, Howardena Pindell

From 2016 to 2019, more than 1,500 cultural institutions from seven continents and 54 countries have participated. Last year, the campaign moved from awareness to action, challenging cultural organizations and individuals to pledge tangible actions to help right the art world’s gender imbalance. Over 750 institutions and 8,000 individuals answered the call.

This year, in the campaign’s fifth year, #5WomenArtists recognizes women who are using art to make change and drive awareness about globally relevant issues and topics. NMWA asks museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions to share art and information about artists who explore key social issues, including gender equity, immigration, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, climate change, and more.

To get started, learn about a few of these artists addressing social issues below. We’ll highlight more here on the blog throughout the month. Share your own favorites on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook using the hashtag #5WomenArtists and tagging @WomenInTheArts.

Gender Equity: Judy Chicago

Chicago is an influential feminist artist, author, and educator. Her pioneering work helped establish and grow the Feminist Art Movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Though best known for her installation The Dinner Party (1974–79), her full body of work—spanning more than five decades—addresses themes from women’s lives, interrogates masculinity, and aims to center the experience of women in history.

Immigration: Betsabeé Romero

For NMWA’s New York Avenue Sculpture Project, Betsabeé Romero created four sculptures of carved and painted tires that speak to the theme of human migration. The particular experience of migration in Mexico directly informs Romero’s art, and her sculptures symbolize humankind’s profound connection to cultural traditions, as well as a yearning to keep families safe and thriving.

Chicago created Test Plate for Virginia Woolf (1978) as part of her development of The Dinner Party (1974–79), which functions as a symbolic history of women in civilization. The floral imagery is meant to symbolize the fruitfulness of Woolf’s talents as a writer; the curved petals may also be seen as pages of an open book.

2018-09-26_Betsabee-Romero-Traces and Scars

Betsabeé Romero, Huellas y cicatricez (Traces and scars), 2018; Photo by Mara Kurlandsky

Hammond_Meeting of Passion and Intellect

Harmony Hammond’s sculpture The Meeting of Passion and Intellect (1981) is partly a meditation on lesbian identity, but is fundamentally about the relationships between two entities—whether people or ideas—that merge but remain discrete.

sherald_amy-redbone_strawberry_shortcake

Amy Sherald, They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009; Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in.; NMWA, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the 25th Anniversary of NMWA; © Amy Sherald; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Mwangi Hutter_For the Last Tree

Mwangi Hutter, For the Last Tree, 2012; Chromogenic print, 39 ¼ x 26 ⅜ in.; NMWA, Gift of Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Mwangi Hutter

LGBTQ Rights: Harmony Hammond

Hammond has dedicated her career to ensuring queer feminist artists are not erased from the history books. Her book Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History (2000) remains the only text of its kind to date. Her own artwork, though abstract, reflects her personal experiences and political consciousness.

Racial Justice: Amy Sherald

Sherald modifies historical portrait formats to upend the dominant narrative of African American history. She notes, “I create playful yet sober portraits of black Americans within an imaginative history where I do black my way, in the European tradition of painted portraiture.” By painting her subjects’ skin in grayscale, she metaphorically removes their “color.”

Climate Change: Ingrid Mwangi (Mwangi Hutter)

Ecological concerns are a frequent theme in the work of artist duo Mwangi Hutter, who often consider the interconnection of humankind and nature. For the Last Tree (2012) expresses this interconnection by depicting Ingrid Mwangi kneeling in deference to a solitary tree on a desolate beach.

#5WomenArtists: From a #Hashtag to a Movement

Last month, NMWA’s #5WomenArtists social media campaign launched for a fourth year of raising awareness about women artists. Pushing beyond the campaign’s signature question—“Can you name five woman artists?”—the 2019 campaign also challenged cultural organizations and individuals to take action to help right the art world’s gender imbalance. NMWA’s call to action listed ideas to inspire pledges: organizations might survey the ratio of women artists in their collections, acquire a new work by a woman artist, or establish a scholarship for women artists.

#5WomenArtists posts from Instagram

#5WomenArtists posts from Instagram

Inspiring Numbers

Our call this year was answered by over 750 cultural institutions and 8,000 individuals—responses came from across the U.S. as well as 37 other countries on six continents. We welcomed new participating organizations from Armenia, Colombia, Honduras, Liberia, Morocco, New Zealand, Romania, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates, among others. The campaign garnered 5,500 Instagram posts, 17,000 tweets, and countless inspiring pledges:

  • The Detroit Institute of Arts pledged to seek more opportunities to collaborate with local women artists on enriching programs and events.
  • The Seattle Art Museum pledged to feature an installation by a woman artist in its Olympic Sculpture Park.
  • The Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba) pledged to increase the representation of Latin American women in its collection until works by female artists account for at least 50% of acquisitions.
  • The National Portrait Gallery pledged to feature the stories of American women in its exhibitions, programs, and social media as part of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.

Individual participants pledged to:

  • “Buy work from living female artists and continue to legitimize the female perspective in the art world.”
  • “Integrate women artists into my lessons and curriculum.”
  • “Expose my son to art created by women.”
  • “Create a space for young women in the arts to feel comfortable sharing their work.”
  • “Create more opportunities for women artists to show, sell, and talk about their work.”

Screenshots of various #5WomenArtists pledges and answers

The campaign also expanded the practice of social media “takeovers” this year. In addition to NMWA taking over Tate’s Instagram account on International Women’s Day to share selections from our collection, this year the @womeninthearts Instagram account was taken over by 22 other museums that highlighted #5WomenArtists from their collections or programs. Check out the @womeninthearts story highlights to watch!

Tate x NMWA Collaboration

Additionally, this year NMWA teamed up with Tate to expand the reach of #5WomenArtists. Tate has an ongoing commitment to increasing the representation of women across the arts sector and within its four galleries across the U.K. Tate’s own public pledge is a major one: to stage five major solo exhibitions featuring women artists in 2020 and 2021. The planned exhibitions will highlight artists Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Paula Rego, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Maria Bartuszová, and Haegue Yang.

Keep Connected

Explore #5WomenArtists highlights on our website and social media accounts (@womeninthearts). Continue to advocate on behalf of women artists and celebrate their accomplishments all year. Every month is Women’s History Month at the museum!

—Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

#5WomenArtists Up Close: Tate

NMWA’s annual #5WomenArtists campaign calls attention to the fact that women artists remain underrepresented—and their work undervalued—in the art world. Since 2016, more than 11,000 individuals and 1,000 organizations have participated. This year, we asked cultural institutions to commit to actions that will advance gender equity in the arts. Hear from Nell Burnham, digital marketing production officer at Tate, about her museum’s commitments—and get inspired to make your own.

Tate highlights the work of British artist Gwen John, including her Self-Portrait (1902), in this year’s #5WomenArtists campaign; Photo © Tate

Is this Tate’s first year participating in #5WomenArtists?

Tate has participated in #5WomenArtists for the last three years. The campaign has been well received by our audience—in 2018, engagement on our social channels increased by more than a third during this campaign. Working on content and looking at our collection through the lens of #5WomenArtists helped us reframe our social media strategy, putting representation and diversity at the heart of what we present on our channels—not just for Women’s History month but throughout the year.

Why is the #5WomenArtists campaign important to Tate?

The #5WomenArtists campaign sheds light on the inequalities that exist in the arts sector. It has also united galleries and museums from around the world in raising awareness and working for change. Tate is committed to championing the work of women artists across its collection and exhibition programme, and the #5WomenArtists campaign gives us a moment to reflect on the work we are doing to represent women artists and share their work with our online audiences.

Tell us about your pledged action(s).

Tate pledged to make 95% of our social media posts about women artists for the month of March. To mark the campaign, we also announced five major solo shows by women artists opening across the Tate galleries in 2020 and 2021.

Which women artists will you be highlighting?

For the five major solo shows, Tate Britain will celebrate two of the most important figurative painters of their generations; in 2020 the first major survey of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s work will open, followed by a retrospective of Paula Rego’s paintings, drawings, and prints in 2021. Tate Modern will highlight the work of two Eastern European sculptors in its 2020 programme, beginning in June with an immersive exhibition of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s huge textile sculptures. This will be followed in November by a retrospective of Maria Bartuszová, an artist renowned for her experimental abstract works in plaster. In summer 2020, Tate St Ives will stage a major exhibition of the multisensory work of South Korean artist Haegue Yang.

On our social channels, we will share the work of more than 50 women artists across the month, including Lubaina Himid, the Guerrilla Girls, Louise Bourgeois, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Gwen John, Sonia Boyce, Alexis Hunter, Beatrix Potter, and Gillian Wearing.

How will your digital channels continue to champion the work of women artists beyond this campaign?

We will continue to champion the work by women in our collection, collaborate with new and emerging women artists, and engage in conversations around diversity and equality.

—Nell Burnham is the digital marketing production officer at Tate; Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

#5WomenArtists Up Close: New-York Historical Society

NMWA’s annual #5WomenArtists campaign calls attention to the fact that women artists remain underrepresented—and their work undervalued—in the art world. Since 2016, more than 11,000 individuals and 1,000 organizations have participated. This year, we asked cultural institutions to commit to actions that will advance gender equity in the arts. Hear from Dr. Valerie Paley, senior vice president, chief historian, and director of the Center for Women’s History (CWH) at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library (NYHS), about her institution’s commitments—and get inspired to make your own.

Is this the New-York Historical Society’s first year participating in #5WomenArtists?

In previous years we have shared social media posts for #5WomenArtists during Women’s History Month, but this is the first year we are committed to participating throughout the year via our pledged actions. We’re excited to introduce our audiences to some incredible women artists they might never have heard of.

Why is the #5WomenArtists campaign important to the New-York Historical Society?

An old washboard with a small circular clock affixed to the top, followed by the phrase "Extreme Times Call for Extreme Heroines" printed in block letters below it, followed by mammy figure carved out of wood and holding a machine gun and mop.

Betye Saar, Extreme Times Call for Extreme Heroines, 2017; Mixed media and wood figure on vintage washboard, clock; Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, CA; Photo by Robert Wedemeyer

Every month is Women’s History Month at the CWH, as our scholars are continuously working to amplify the stories of women who have been forgotten or undervalued in history. This year in particular, many of the exhibitions and programs at both the CWH and the museum focus on women artists—a group largely underrepresented, particularly women artists of color.

#5WomenArtists allows figures like Augusta Savage, for example, to reach a wider audience. She was an influential artist, educator, and community organizer during the Harlem Renaissance. But little of her work survived, and she has gone largely unacknowledged.

Tell us about your pledged action(s).

NYHS will mount four exhibitions throughout 2019 that highlight the work of women artists. NYHS artist-in-residence Bettina von Zwehl is featured in Meditations in an Emergency, on view through April 28; Betye Saar: Keepin’ It Clean is on view through May 27; Augusta Savage: Renaissance Women opens May 3; and LIFE’s Women opens June 28.

We will also share stories of women artists on our blog, Women at the Center, and in our public programs. This spring, we will showcase products exclusively by women artists, makers, and designers through our Designing Women Market at the NYHistory Store.

Which women artists will you be highlighting? Can you share any fun facts about them or their art? 

We are excited to showcase the artists in our four exhibitions, as well as six women photographers from LIFE magazine’s vital years who have gone largely unacknowledged. I am thrilled to exhibit the work of 92-year-old Saar, who has used her art to express the themes of racial justice and feminism. Although Saar is well known, no large museum in New York City has ever given her a full retrospective, so this show is a great step in the right direction.

Also, in our permanent Gallery of Tiffany Lamps, we highlight the work of Clara Driscoll, Louis C. Tiffany’s head designer, who managed a team of more than 30 women glass-cutters. Their work was critical to the success of the Tiffany lamp.

A room full of Tiffany lamps, all lit and on display at the NY Historical Society

Gallery of Tiffany Lamps; Photo by Jon Wallen; Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society

Some critics have called the renewed focus on women artists a “trend”—from your institutional perspective, how will you maintain the energy of this initiative beyond March?

The CWH’s commitment to honoring and expressing women’s influence on society, politics, and culture is ongoing. In a larger sense, I would hardly call this a “trend,” but rather, a correction. Year-round, our exhibitions in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery feature a rotation of shows that cover not only women’s history, but women’s artistic output.

—Dr. Valerie Paley is the senior vice president, chief historian, and director of the Center for Women’s History at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library; Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

#5WomenArtists Up Close: the Jewish Museum

NMWA’s annual #5WomenArtists campaign calls attention to the fact that women artists remain underrepresented—and their work undervalued—in the art world. Since 2016, more than 11,000 individuals and 1,000 organizations have participated. This year, we asked cultural institutions to commit to actions that will advance gender equity in the arts. Hear from JiaJia Fei, director of digital at the Jewish Museum, about her museum’s commitments—and get inspired to make your own.

Is this the Jewish Museum’s first year participating in #5WomenArtists?

The Jewish Museum has proudly partnered with NMWA on #5WomenArtists since the campaign’s launch in 2016. Like many online movements, #5WomenArtists may have started on social media, but has extended to in-person gatherings, inspiring programming at the Jewish Museum that highlights women artists and brings our online communities together.

JiaJia Fei stands in the center of a room of the Martha Rosler exhibition wearing black pants and a black tshirt that reads "Men Have Made a Lot of Bad Art" with her right hand up with peace fingers.

JiaJia Fei at the Jewish Museum’s Martha Rosler exhibition

Why is the #5WomenArtists campaign important to the Jewish Museum?

The Jewish Museum has a long history of supporting women artists, from offering the museum’s first solo exhibition to Helen Frankenthaler in the 1960s, to major surveys of work by Eva Hesse (2006), Louise Nevelson (2007), Maira Kalman (2011), Florine Stettheimer (2017) and most recently, a survey on Martha Rosler (2018)—but there is still more work to be done. Our digital platforms offer the opportunity to amplify the work of women artists in our collection even further, and allow us to highlight works not on view.

Tell us about your pledged action(s).

The Jewish Museum just organized its second Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, in partnership with Art+Feminism, to improve the representation of women artists in the museum’s collection on Wikipedia. It brought dozens of participants together to combat the gender imbalance on Wikipedia, and, by extension, the art world. We will also feature women artists on our social media channels and Medium stories, as well as merchandise made by women in our shop.

Which women artists will you be highlighting? Can you share any fun facts about them or their art?

This year we’re highlighting women artists on view in Scenes from the Collection, including Elaine Lustig Cohen, Chantal Joffe, Deborah Kass, and Louise Nevelson. Our iconic OY/YO (2016) sculpture by Deborah Kass, although three feet wide in the gallery, also comes in adorable reproductions as keychains, earrings, cufflinks, necklaces, t-shirts, and baby onesies in the shop.

Two female participants at the Jewish Museum’s March 3, 2019, Wikipedia-Edit-a-thon, wearing “OY/YO” t-shirts--the photos shows them from the back.

Two participants at the Jewish Museum’s March 3, 2019, Wikipedia-Edit-a-thon, wearing “OY/YO” t-shirts inspired by the Deborah Kass sculpture

Some critics have called the renewed focus on women artists a “trend”—from your institutional perspective, how will you maintain the energy of this initiative beyond March?

Until women—including women of color—are adequately represented in the art world as artists, curators, and directors, the focus on elevating the work of women should continue with urgency. The Jewish Museum will continue to celebrate the legacies of women like art dealer Edith Halpert, the subject of our exhibition in fall 2019. As the first significant female gallerist in the United States, she supported women and immigrants, and hers was the first gallery in New York City to promote the work of African American artists. Until all of these voices are represented, the conversation will continue to be incomplete.

—JiaJia Fei is the director of digital at the Jewish Museum; Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

#5WomenArtists Up Close: North Carolina Museum of Art

NMWA’s annual #5WomenArtists campaign calls attention to the fact that women artists remain underrepresented—and their work undervalued—in the art world. Since 2016, more than 11,000 individuals and 1,000 organizations have participated. This year, we asked cultural institutions to commit to actions that will advance gender equity in the arts. Hear from Dr. Valerie Hillings, director of the North Carolina Museum of Art, about her museum’s commitments—and get inspired to make your own.

Is this the North Carolina Museum of Art’s first year participating in #5WomenArtists?

This is our second year of showcasing female artists in our collection as part of the #5WomenArtists campaign. Our collection includes works by Yayoi Kusama, Georgia O’Keeffe, Mickalene Thomas, Louise Bourgeois, Harriet Hosmer, and more. On social media we spotlight the history, process, and impact of these important artists to encourage conversation.

A wide-angle shot of hundreds of women holding up Guerrilla Girls masks in front of their faces

As part of Take Up Space: Women’s Weekend at the NCMA, the Guerrilla Girls will offer a poster-making workshop on March 9 at the North Carolina Museum of Art; Photo: Guerrilla Girls, Wealth & Power, 2016

Why is the #5WomenArtists campaign important to the North Carolina Museum of Art?

Last January, we launched our #MatronsOfTheArts initiative that supports acquisitions, exhibitions, and programs by and about female artists. Like #5WomenArtists, it celebrates the invaluable role women have played and continue to play in the arts by telling a broader, more inclusive story.

Tell us about your pledged action(s).

This year, in celebration of International Women’s Day, we will host three days of inclusive, imaginative, thought-provoking, and fun events at Take Up Space: Women’s Weekend at the NCMA. Programs include artist collective the Guerrilla Girls, artist-led tours, yoga, workshops, a pop-up chorus, and more, to activate, empower, and nurture. Matrons of the Arts sponsors this initiative to engage across the gender spectrum, including trans women and nonbinary individuals. Men and children are encouraged to attend.

Which women artists will you be highlighting? Can you share any fun facts about them or their art? 

A vertical oil painting in earthy colors of a woman with black hair who seems to be mid-move in a dance, her left hand pointing up to the sky, her right placed on her head with her head tilted to the right, her feet on her tip toes. She wears a patterned yellow blouse and a patterned long skirt in teal.

Hayv Kahraman, Kawliya 1, 2014; Oil on linen, 96 x 48 in.; On view at the North Carolina Museum of Art; Purchased with funds from the bequest of Fannie and Alan Leslie, by exchange; Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art

We’ve installed a new gallery that features portraits of women by women artists. It also highlights works of art we’ve acquired in the past 15 years that focus on female identity and tradition, power, and transformation. For example, the personal history of Iraqi artist Hayv Kahraman (b. 1981) informs her paintings. Her family fled Bagdad in 1992 and found refuge in Sweden, before Kahraman moved to Italy to study design. She is now settled in the U.S. This displacement exposed her to artistic influences that can be seen in her images—Japanese scroll painting, Italian Renaissance portraits, and Persian miniatures. Her work Kawliya 1 (2014) is named after a traditional Iraqi dance Kahraman experienced as a young girl. She has celebrated this memory as a touchstone to her childhood and a reminder of her ongoing search for a place to call home.

Some critics have called the renewed focus on women artists a “trend”—how will you maintain the energy of this initiative beyond March?

We’re committed to leading conversations throughout the year to amplify under-represented voices in the arts. We know we have more work to do. We want our collection, programs, exhibitions, and staff to reflect the diversity of the people we serve, in the state of North Carolina and the world beyond.

—Dr. Valerie Hillings is the director of the North Carolina Museum of Art; Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

#5WomenArtists: From Awareness to Action

A woman stares at a gallery wall of blank white frames, above her head the question "Can you name five women artists?" is written in bold green type. At the bottom of the image the statement "Most people we asked could not." is written in white text, followed by the #5WomenArtists hashtag.

#5WomenArtists is back for a fourth year, this time with a new call for action

Each March since 2016, the National Museum of Women in the Arts has posed a simple question on social media for Women’s History Month: Can you name five women artists? Using the hashtag #5WomenArtists, the campaign spotlights the lives and work of women artists, historical and contemporary. It also calls attention to the fact that women artists remain dramatically underrepresented—and their work undervalued—in galleries, museums, and auction houses around the world.

To date, more than 11,000 individuals and 1,000 organizations from 47 countries and seven continents have participated in the campaign. This year, we move from awareness to action as we invite museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions to take tangible steps toward advancing gender equity in the arts. Whether you are an individual or part of an institution, there are many ways to play a part in supporting women artists throughout March—and beyond.

Share your pledge on Instagram Stories! Download more templates to use on social media

Check out our list of ideas about how to get started, including these highlights:

For individuals:

  • Learn about gender inequity in the arts through some shocking statistics
  • Download and share ready-made #5WomenArtists graphics on your social media feeds
  • When you see an exhibition/museum/gallery that features few or no women artists, tell the institution that you would like to see more women represented
  • Buy a work of art by a woman artist
  • Start a support group or skill share with other women artists

For institutions:

Get inspired by pledges taken by the Tate, the Jewish Museum, the Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, and others. Other ideas for action include:

  • Determine the ratio of women artists in your collection by conducting a survey
  • Establish a program for women artists in your community (like a networking event, workshop, panel discussion, or scholarship)
  • Acquire a new work by a woman artist for your collection in the next year

To kick off the month, learn more about five women artists featured in NMWA’s programs, exhibitions, and collection:

A graphic depicting photos of five different women artists including: Ambreen Butt, Remedios Varo, Patricia Piccinini, Nikki S. Lee, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.

Learn more about women artists through NMWA’s artist profiles

Ambreen Butt (b. 1969, Lahore, Pakistan) reimagines traditional Indian and Persian miniature painting to feature contemporary female protagonists and political subject matter.

A refugee two times over, Remedios Varo (b. 1908, Anglès, Spain, d. 1963, Mexico City) settled in Mexico, where she painted fantastical Surrealist works that explored magic, alchemy, and analytical psychology.

Patricia Piccinini (b. 1965, Freetown, Sierra Leone) creates sculptures of hybrid creatures that question the implications of biotechnologies and humanity’s encroachment into “natural” processes.

Nikki S. Lee (b. 1970, Kye-Chang, South Korea) interrogates identity in her photographic works, exploring whether it is possible to move fluidly between cultures.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (b. 1940, St. Ignatius, Montana) works with paint, collage, and appropriated imagery to comment on the destruction of the environment, governmental oppression of native cultures, and the myths of Euro-American cultural hegemony.

Starting March 1, take the challenge and post about #5WomenArtists on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and tag us @WomenInTheArts. Follow along with the month’s highlights.

—Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.