I went to the opening of Artemesia, a group show (in which I have two new works showing) last night. Curated by Ruth Cayford, the show is at St David's Hall Gallery in Cardiff and features the work of over 40 contemporary women artists currently practicing in Wales, celebrating the ideas they have in 2011. Here is the essay written for the show by Sue Griffith, Head of School of Contextual Studies & Fine Art, Swansea Metropolitan University.
"Maybe the existing forms of art for the ideas men have had are inadequate for the ideas women have."' Susana Torre, 1976
Artemisia Gentileschi lends her name to this extensive exhibition, which brings together the work of numerous women artists currently active in Wales. She was not only an extraordinary Renaissance artist, but also occupied a key role in the recovery of women artists’ history begun by feminists around forty years ago, who sifted through centuries of neglect, not only to uncover forgotten women artists, but perhaps more importantly, they identified shared expressions for the women artists yet to come.
Art’s forms and content have not been without issues for women artists, since both had been defined by male artists. It took a further ideological leap for women to shift from battling with exclusion to a positive questioning of approaches to creativity, emerging from a wish to express their differences, differently. That women might re-define art’s practice by exploring what had hitherto been invisible or defined as ‘not art’, produced some provocative work. Stylistic innovation was perhaps not the most important of these differences, the ‘ideas that women have’ most certainly was. It became clear that historical frictions bound in to the two roles - woman and artist - presented them with unique challenges. What has become clearer now, is that these challenges have enriched their work.
Women’s greater participation in art has transformed art, flipping the subtly nuanced labels sometimes used to relegate their work to obscurity in the Fine Arts (charming, decorative, domestic) entirely on their heads. Refusing hierarchies, they have explored (using that old feminist adage) the personal with the political, intimacy with the allegorical, sensitivity with edginess, the fragile with the dark, fantasy with fetish. In short their creative strategies are as diverse and multi-textured as women themselves, and are abundantly evidenced in this exhibition.
The complexity of human relationships, including self-identity, is navigated through memory and fantasy, and is just as likely to be intensely personal as it is universally symbolic. Desires for connection are also explored through responses to place or location, and might reference the landscape of history, or even pre-history, or the personal space of the domestic. The body, that well contested area, is still of immense importance to a number of the artists here, particularly evidenced through performance based art; its potential for ritual significance seems endless. Drawing is clearly immensely valued as a visualising tool, but no more so than stitching, printing, constructing, photographing, filming and mark making from the fragile to the urgent.
But never forget that whilst our recognition of the ideas and creativity which women have brought to art may seem a recent understanding, in truth Artemisia was already there; it is recognised that her intense portrayal of powerful women differed from interpretations by her male peers. The contest we now face, in a time when arts education is seriously threatened, is that of ensuring that the gains women artists have made in the past forty years are never underestimated and continue to influence art. This exhibition is a timely reminder that Artemisia’s legacy needs to be wholeheartedly celebrated.
The exhibition Features works from:
Sue Williams, Rozanne Hawksley, Catrin Webster, Di Setch, Dilys Jackson, Virginia Head, Rebecca Spooner, Adele Vye, Fern Thomas, Amanda Roderick, Gemma Copp, Anna Barrett, Jacqueline Alkema, Corrie Chiswell, Becky Adams, Susan Adams, Kathryn Ashhill, Kathryn Campbell Dodd, Heather Eastes, Annie Giles Hobbs, Ruth Harries, Penny Hallas, Mary Husted, Daphne Hurn, Ann Jordon, Tiff Oben, Luned Rhys Parri, Jane Taylor, Miranda Whall, Dawn Woolley, Sue Hunt, Rebecca Gould, Eirian Llwyd, Lisa Jones, Nicola O’Neill, Ruth McLees, Bella Kerr, Helen Booth, Jean Walcot, Jo Alexander, Wendy Couling, Su Roberts, Janet Walters and Lisa Tann.
Artemesia continues until April 9th.