London-based art historian Katy Hessel launched @thegreatwomenartists in 2015 as a platform to share and learn from women in the creative industries. It has since grown into a major podcast, with over 185,000 followers on Instagram. For International Women’s Day, the curator and broadcaster joins Bombay Sapphire for an evening exploring the importance of self-expression in a modern era. Through an online panel, she joins trailblazing talent from the arts and drinks worlds – including Faye Wei Wei and Charlotte Edey – to discuss self-expression, identity and how to spark ideas. Shown here is work by Edey, whose prints and texiles are informed by symbolism, myth and the experiences of womxn of colour. This event is the fifth instalment of Bombay Sapphire’s Cocktails & Create series – “a call to arms to unlock creativity within everyone.”
A: You work across a range of media – as a writer, broadcaster, curator and founder of The Great Women Artists Podcast and Instagram. How did you get started, and what are your goals?
KH: My goals are first and foremost to write and speak about art history in an accessible and fun manner, and to readdress the gender imbalance in the art world by reinserting women back into the canon of art history. Although a huge amount of progress has been made in recent years (which is fantastic!), non-male artists are still largely underrepresented in museums and galleries. Women in The National Gallery’s collection still only makes up just 1%. The Royal Academy are yet to have a solo exhibition by a female artist in their main space. A study in America found that out of 18 major US art museums, 87% of the collection was male, and 85% were white! There is still so much work to be done.
I began @thegreatwomenartists in October 2015 to combat this issue, but also to educate myself by posting and writing about a different female artist I admire. It’s since grown into a podcast, which allows for a much more in-depth look at an artist’s life and career; artist residencies and exhibitions; and I have also written and presented documentaries for BBC, which I love doing! I grew up watching arts documentaries and that was such a brilliant gateway into subjects and artists working now and from history. I want as many people to feel as though they can be included in conversations around art history, because the more voices we hear, the better insights we will have into these fantastic works.
A: You have interviewed a range of renowned artists – including Turner Prize-winners. What are some of your career highlights?
KH: Yes! The podcast is a real highlight. The Great Women Artists Podcast either interviews women artists on their career, or artists, curators, writers or general art lovers on the female artist who means most to then. It has allowed me to interview some of my heroes, such as Lubaina Himid, the Turner Prize-winner whose work has completely helped shape my understanding of art history and history at large. Himid trained as a theatre designer and creates incredible immersive sculptures, and paintings, which address very important issues, and allow us to look differently at the history we were so often taught.
Olivia Laing is one of my favourite writers (please do check out The Lonely City, Funny Weather, and I am very much looking forward to her upcoming book, Every Body). We spoke about Chantal Joffe, Sarah Lucas and Ana Mendieta. I have also interviewed author Jessie Burton on Frida Kahlo – listening to a writer’s take on an artist is always so intriguing and insightful!
I have been lucky enough to interview renowned curators, such as Helen Molesworth, Eleanor Nairne, Zoe Whitley and Frances Morris (who speak so beautifully on the artists who mean most to them), and of course, some of my favourite artists ever. From Cecily Brown to Chloe Wise, Howardena Pindell, Somaya Critchlow and so many more. We are now five seasons deep, so there’s a lot to explore! Each guest is so different, and so brilliant.
A: You’re hosting a virtual panel with fellow female trailblazers on International Women’s Day, in collaboration with Bombay Sapphire. Who will be joining you for the discussion?
KH: I really can’t wait for this! It’s the perfect way to spend International Women’s Day. Two great artists (who are also great friends of mine) Faye Wei Wei and Charlotte Edey will be joining the discussion around art. We will be looking at how they express femininity in their work, why they work in the mediums they do, the female artists who have influenced them most and how they have found inspiration in the past year.
I am also excited to be joined by Bombay Sapphire’s Master Distiller, Dr Anne Brock, cocktail expert Sandra Lawrence and cocktail connoisseur at The Artesian bar Anna Sebastian. We are going to be covering how they got to where they are, how they express themselves through their work and also, as with the others, how we can support women at this time. It should be a brilliant evening!
A: How would you describe the connection between the arts and drinks worlds? How does Bombay Sapphire fit into the narrative?
KH: Bombay Sapphire have been a huge supporter of the arts for decades, which is so important. Commissioning artists, collaborating and platforming them, they have been instrumental to their visibility. I am excited to explore the connections between the arts and drinks worlds with our guests this International Women’s Day!
A: Why is it so important for women to discuss and share ideas surrounding creativity – especially in 2021 and moving forward, post-pandemic?
KH: With the pandemic coming up to a year, it’s so important that we keep discussions flowing, ideas moving and progressing! The pandemic has really brought to light the inequalities we continue to face in the world, and platforming overlooked voices has never been more vital. All proceeds to this event go to charity, and tickets are purchased on a pay-what-you-can basis, so I really hope we see a whole crowd of people. It is going to be fun!
The online event takes place 8 March, 19:00-20:30 GMT. Register here.
All ticket donation proceeds will go toward supporting female fellows at the Artist Benevolent Fund.
1. Chapel, Charlotte Edey.
2. Call, Charlotte Edey, 2019.
3. Feverish, Charlotte Edey, 2021.