National Gallery West is pleased to present a new exhibition, Seven Women Artists, which will open its doors on September 29, 2015 and has been extended until February 21, 2016. Seven Women Artists was originally presented at the National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston, and was curated by O’Neil Lawrence, the National Gallery’s Senior Curator. It featured new and recent work by seven oustanding mid-career female artists, who live and work in Jamaica or are from Jamaica: Kereina Chang Fatt, Miriam Hinds-Smith, Amy Laskin, Prudence Lovell, Berette Macaulay, Judith Salmon, and Jasmine Thomas-Girvan. The present exhibition at National Gallery West represents a selection of work from the original exhibition, also curated by O’Neil Lawrence, and features up to three works by each of the seven artists, or fourteen works of art in all. The questions raised by the exhibition however remain the same:
The feminist movement produced major activist challenges to what had been a significant blind spot in the dominant art historical narratives: the marginalization of female artists and of what could be defined as “women’s art.” This campaign was spearheaded by feminist art historians such as Linda Nochlin and activist groups such as Guerilla Girls and has extended globally, into many different socio-cultural contexts. As a result, women artists are now receiving more recognition in art-historical and institutional narratives but the project is far from complete and women artists are still at a disadvantage compared to their male counterparts, in terms of the dynamics of recognition and exposure.
Feminist art activists have argued that a major reason why female artists have been marginalized is that much of what they have historically produced does not fit dominant notions about “fine art.” The response to this has involved reclaiming and validating such “women’s work” and many feminist artists have embraced traditional “craft” media such as embroidery and quilting. Another area of feminist art activism has involved challenging the dominant representations of women in mainstream art, which have typically reflected male perspectives, and representing female themes from an assertively “female” perspective. This has involved at times provocative representations of female sexuality and the female body that illustrate the extent to which the personal is the political in this context. Such politicized conceptions of “women’s art” have however also been critiqued by those who feel that this pigeonholes female artists, who should be empowered to claim any artistic theme or medium they wish to pursue, without being tied down or defined by their gender.
The question this exhibition asks is whether these debates have any relevance in the Jamaican context. Some may argue that such issues are not relevant here since there is gender equality in the Jamaican art world. The gender balance we see today is a recent development and is mainly a numerical one, however, which is complicated by factors such as race and class. The subject also has special urgency because of the social pressures and dangers that face women and, particularly, young girls in Jamaican society today. (more…)