International Women’s Day: Exemplary Visions

According to National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC, the top three museums in the world, the British Museum, London, (est. 1753), the Louvre, Paris, (est. 1793), and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, (est. 1870) have never had female directors. Furthermore, one of the largest international arts events, the Venice Biennale, is a demonstrator of the inequality still prevalent today. In 2009, the event featured just 43% women, and in 2013, it dropped to 26%. In 2014, it was 33%. With the 57th Biennale approaching this May, the imbalance in the industry is now more prevalent than ever.

But despite this consistent imbalance, there have been a number of female figures who have pursued, achieved and exceeded their goals, and whilst we think that all women are wonderful and should be lauded for their successes both individually and collectively, in light of International Women’s Day, 8 March, we have selected 10 inspiring women who have contributed to the wider creative industries as well as achieving outstanding things in their respective fields. Our list showcases the bright minds and insatiable imaginations of women working in the contemporary artistic climate.

1. Sarah Calburn
Born in 1964 in Johannesburg, Sarah Calburn has fast become one of the leading South African architects of her generation, founding her own company in 1996 after completing a Masters in Architecture by Research at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. She has worked in Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne on a number of residential and other larger-scale projects including designing Gallery MOMO in Cape Town. She was programme director of ArchitectureZA 2010 – the first South African Architectural Biennale – which was an iconic development for the country. She currently serves on the committee of the Gauteng Institute for Architecture.

2. Federica Chiocchetti
Federica Chiocchetti (b. 1983) is the founding director of Photocaptionist, amongst a breadth of other achievements, including being an avid photography critic, curator and editor, whilst currently working on a PhD in photography at the University of Westminster. Most recently, she has been appointed guest curator of the 2017 Jaipur Photo Festival in India. Her curatorial credits include Feminine Masculine: On the Struggle and Fascination of Dealing with the Other Sex for Photo50 at the London Art Fair. She was also winner of the Kraszna Krausz 2015 Best Photography Book Award.

3. Naomi Beckwith
Born in Chicago in 1976, Naomi Beckwith has gone from strength to strength as a curator. Before joining the mammoth Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), she was associate curator at The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Whitney Lauder Curatorial Fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. Just four years after starting out in the role, she had crafted some of MCA’s most timely exhibitions, including a major outdoor sculptural commission by Yinka Shonibare MBE and The Freedom Principle (2015), a major documentation and exploration of 1960s African American avant-garde, which she co-curated with Dieter Roelstraete.

4. Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929) is a Japanese artist and writer whose success knows no bounds. The practitioner is just as committed to her practice as she was 70 years ago, carving a unique and awe-inspiring body of work that has influenced millions. Focusing on intricate and obsessive dot work, and recurring shapes and symbols – such as the iconic pumpkin – Kusama has battled with mental health issues all her life, remedying them through a never-ending creation of pattern. With a remarkable story and even more extraordinary following, the now 87-year-old continues to forge a positive and inspirational pathway for the future. She notes: “Polka-dots become movement, [they] are a way to infinity.”

5. Marina Abramović
Marina Abramović (b. 1946) is a Yugoslavian performance artist that has consistently challenged the limits of the body as a vehicle through which to understand the world. Although she is known for a number of collaborations with ex-partner Ulay, the figure has unapologetically been a pioneer in her own right, inviting huge audiences to a multitude of controversial works, including The Artist is Present at MoMA, New York (2010). Covering a variety of themes including intimacy, war, mortality, mourning, delusion, illusion and time, no area of subject matter has ever been off-limits, opening her mind to the public and exposing a ground-breaking and undeterred vision.

6. LaToya Ruby Frazier
LaToya Ruby Frazier (b. 1982) is the only photographer among the 24 winners of the 2015 MacArthur Fellow Program by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This is not the only award to be bestowed upon the Pennsylvania-born practitioner with TED Fellows (2015) and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2014) amongst the growing list of accolades. Frazier builds visual archives that address industrialism, rustbelt revitalisation, environmental justice, healthcare inequity, family and communal history – a powerhouse of creative and reactive thinking.

7. Frances Morris
Frances Morris (b. 1958) is the current Director of Tate Modern, London, one of the best-known galleries in the country.Her appointment as Director was announced in January 2016, which has had monumental effect internationally, as she is the gallery’s first British and first woman director. Though she has worked on a number of important projects, Louise Bourgeois’ acclaimed links with Tate are no coincidence. In 2007, Morris curated the museum’s definitive retrospective that reflected a confidence in the artist, putting her at the centre of the public sphere and helping to secure a title within wider art history.

8. Shilpa Gupta
Born in 1976 in Mumbai, Shilpa Gupta is one of the leading contemporary Indian artists. Having studied sculpture at Sir J. J. School of Fine Arts from 1992 to 1997, and has been shown in a number of leading institutions such as Tate Modern, London, Serpentine Gallery, London, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and New Museum, New York, amongst many others. Gupta addresses a myriad of topics through everyday icons, for example, Singing Cloud (2008) which refers to the Mumbai bombings of 2008 where 171 people were killed. Suspending 4000 reverse-wired black microphones evokes political connotations through the imagery of lost voices and untold stories.

9. Taryn Simon
Recently named the 2017 Master of Photography at Photo London (18-21 May, Somerset House), Taryn Simon (b. 1975) is an undoubtedly important practitioner of the 21st century, offering cultural insight whilst pioneering for social change. At just 42 years of age, the multi-disciplinary artist has meticulously undermined the certainty of the photographic image, turning the viewer’s perspective to the systems of power, in for example, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007) – an inventory of what lies hidden and out-of-view within the borders of the United States.

10. Laure Prouvost
Laure Provoust (b. 1978) is a French artist now living in Antwerp, whose various accolades have included the prestigious Turner Prizein 2013 for Wantee, a video installation made in response to Kurt Schwitters. Reaching new heights in complex environments, Prouvost invites audiences into an exploratory arena of reflection, using film and collage within a deeply imaginative space. Constantly seeking new territories for expression, the Goldsmiths University alumnus weaves fictional and real-life narratives together in order to shed new light on personal and collective identities, whilst calling upon the viewer as an active participant.

For more facts from the NMWA, visit:

1. Taryn Simon, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007). Courtesy of the artist.
3. Shilpa Gupta, Singing Cloud, 2008-09. Courtesy Shilpa Gupta. Le Laboratoire.
4. Laure Prouvost, Wantee, 2013. HD video and mixed media installation. Installation view, Schwitters in Britain, Tate Britain, London. Photo: Tate, Lucy Dawkins.Courtesy of the artist and carlier | gebauer, Berlin; Nathalie Obadia, Paris.