International Women’s Day:
Key Art Exhibitions this Season

International Women's Day:<br>Key Art Exhibitions this Season

International Women’s Day has been observed on 8 March since 1977. The global holiday was adopted by the United Nations to raise awareness about issues including abuse and violence against women, gender equality and reproductive rights. Inequity continues to impact the art world. In 2022, the Burns Halperin Report found that the total of Pablo Picasso’s auction sales since 2008 exceeded the amount generated by all women, across genres and time periods. We are also seeing a disparity at the leadership level when it comes to key institutions. For instance, the British Museum, the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are three of the most prestigious and most-visited galleries in the world and yet they have never had a female art director. The National Museum of Women in Arts (NMWA) was established in 1981 to address these imbalances, becoming the world’s first major organisation solely dedicated to championing women artists. It also educates audiences about inequity in the arts by presenting some eye-opening facts. This data is evidence that women have been systematically underrepresented and undervalued in this sector. Correcting this tendency will take an immense global effort – which includes more exhibitions led by and featuring work from women. The following list comprises shows around the world that celebrate impactful and pioneering image-makers across the ages, from Julia Margaret Cameron to Nona Faustine.

Portraits to Dream In | National Portrait Gallery | Until 16 June

National Portrait Gallery is running a major showcase of vintage prints from two of art history’s most influential photographers: Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) and Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879). More than 160 rare prints are on display, showing the parallels between two photographers separated in time by over 100 years. The exhibition’s title is a phrase borrowed from Woodman, who observed that photograph’s opened up spaces for “viewers to dream in.” Both artists evoke this state within their works as part of their shared exploration of appearance, archetypes, gender, identity and the muse.

Acts of Creation: On Art and Motherhood | Arnolfini Bristol | 9 March – 26 May

While the Madonna and Child is one of the most famous subjects of European art, we rarely see art about motherhood as a lived experience. Acts of Creation: On Art and Motherhood is a major group exhibition that will address this blind spot in art history through the work of more than 60 modern and contemporary practitioners. The pieces on display plunge into the joys and heartaches, mess, myths and mishaps of motherhood in over 100 artworks, from the feminist avant-garde to the present day. This show is an assertion that the artist mother is an important – although rarely visible – cultural figure.

Digital Clouds Don’t Carry Rain | Autograph London | Until 1 June

Mexican-British artist Mónica Alcázar-Duarte’s photographic practice affirms the value and survival of her ancestors’ indigenous knowledge whilst inspecting western society’s obsession with speed, expansion and resource accumulation at a time when ecological disaster looms. The self-portraits at the core of this exhibition at Autograph are set amongst the dying trees of Derbyshire, home of the Industrial Revolution. She mimics poses from 18th-century Casta paintings, a genre made in Mexico during Spanish colonialism to illustrate racist social hierarchies by classifying mixed race individuals within a ‘caste’ system.

Acts of Resistance | South London Gallery | Until 9 June

Acts of Resistance explores the role of contemporary photographers in terms of feminist resistance. The exhibition brings together works by over 16 international artists and collectives who are using the camera to challenge traditional modes of protest photography. It shows how different approaches to feminism have emerged over the past decade, a period discussed as the “fourth wave.” Visitors will encounter approaches from different regions and see common concerns, including expanding intersectionality, transnational solidarity and the use of social media and digital technology as a tool for activism.

Nona Faustine: White Shoes | Brooklyn Museum | Until 7 July

White Shoes captures the historical amnesia of New York City, a city much like the rest of the country that has not fully reckoned with its past” states artist Nona Faustine (b. 1977), who confronts the lasting— and often under-recognized —legacies of enslavement in New York City. This presentation at Brooklyn Museum marks the artist’s first solo exhibition and first complete installation of photographic projects. More than 40 self-portraits reveal the ways in which innocuous urban landscapes – from Harlem to Wall Street to Prospect Park and beyond – were once significant sites of trauma and spaces of great resilience.

Pia Arke: Silences and Stories | John Hansard Gallery | Until 11 May

Pia Arke was a Kalaaleq and Danish multimedia artist. Born in Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland) to a Greenlandic mother and a Danish father, Arke spoke of an identity that sat outside of being defined as either Danish or Greenlandic; a ‘third place’ that allowed for hybridity and resisted polarisation. She strove to make visible the complex colonial relationship between the two countries, addressing questions of identity and representation. This major survey presents her mixed-media pieces and recreates her famous life-sized camera obscure, which she used to create her seminal pinhole camera photographs. 

Annie Ernaux & Photography: Exteriors | MEP | Until 26 May

This exhibition at MEP celebrates the close relationship between the photographic medium and the work of Nobel-Prize winning writer Annie Ernaux (b. 1940), who is acclaimed for “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the collective restraints of personal memory.” The author’s grounded and direct language spoke directly about women’s lives and desires, encompassed in books such as A Woman’s Story (1988) and The Years (2008). It combines texts from Ernaux’s Exteriors (Journal du dehors) (1993) with more than 150 images from photographers such as Daido Moriyama, Dolorès Marat and Issei Soda. 

Beyond Form: Lines of Abstraction, 1950-1970 | Turner Contemporary, Margate | Until 6 May

Beyond Form is a group exhibition thematising abstraction as a radical global language shared by women artists in the 20 years following WWII. By resisting the pressure to return to domestic roles, female artists of the 1950s and 1960s used visual expressions that resonated with the era’s proto-feminist sentiments. On view are tactile pieces by Eva Hesse, Mária Bartuszová, Maria Teresa Chojnacka as well as a selection of paintings and reliefs by Agnes Martin and Carmen Herrera. Over 80 items show how trailblazing women artists revolutionised and materialised ideas, making way for new forms of creative expression.

Claude Cahun: Beneath This Mask | Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham | Until 17 March

French photographer Claude Cahun (1894-1954) engaged with the politics of identity. Born Lucy Schwob, the image-maker adopted the new name as a pseudonym in 1917 to be free from the confines of 20th century gender norms. Cahun was aligned with the Surrealist movement early on but would later become distanced from the group after fleeing France, settling in Jersey to embark upon what many consider a landmark series of images. The photographer achieved posthumous fame for elusive self-portraits showing multiple personae, which subverted the traditions of the genre to highlight the construction of gender.

Chiara Camoni: Call and Gather | Pirelli Hangar Bicocca | Until 21 July

Chiara Camoni’s (b. 1974) solo exhibition welcomes visitors into an imaginary landscape in which they can immerse and lose themselves. This marks the largest presentation of one of the renowned Italian artists of her generation, combining new productions with historical works. Her expansive practice interweaves spirituality and craft using multiple forms of expression, from drawing and vegetable printing to video and ceramics. The show is reflection on the feminine, the spiritual and mystical sphere of reality, the relationship between culture and history, and the everyday gestures that shape our existence.

Image Credits:

  1. Hoda Afshar, Untitled #14 from the In Turn series, 2023. © Hoda Afshar. Image courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Meeanjin / Brisbane.
  2. Wilson Centre for Photography; Untitled, 1979 by Francesca Woodman. Courtesy Woodman Family Foundation. © Woodman Family Foundation/DACS London.
  3. Mónica Alcázar-Duarte, K’aaxal ja’-Mayan Thunder deity, 2021. From the series Digital Clouds Don’t Carry Rain. Courtesy the artist.
  4. Zanele Muholi, Bester, New York, 2019. © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy Yancey Richardson, NY.
  5. Faustine, Black Indian Andrew Williams Home Site, Seneca Village, Central.
  6. Bernard Pierre Wolff, Shinjuku , Tokyo, 1981 Gelatin silver print MEP Collection, Paris. Bequest from the artist in 1985. © MEP, Paris.
  7. Tawney At Work In Studio, New York, USA.1966 Nina Leen/ The LIFE Picture Collection/ Shutterstock.
  8. Claude Cahun, Untitled, c.1928. © and Courtesy Jersey Heritage.