Women have made an immeasurable contribution to the world through art. From Frida Kahlo’s bold self-portraits to the modernist works of Georgia O’Keeffe, the greatest female artists stand among the world’s most influential historical figures. Always pushing boundaries and questioning convention, their self-expression made enormous cultural impacts around the world.
But women haven’t always been given the credit they deserve in the art world. Recognition is improving in the Australian art scene, though female artists still face barriers like underrepresentation in state galleries. Thankfully, progress is being made thanks in no small part to countless people within the industry at home and abroad. Here, we take a look at eight amazing women, both internationally renowned artists and homegrown up-and-comers, who are making their mark on the contemporary art scene.
Fiona Hall is one of the biggest names in Australian contemporary art and represented our country at the 56th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2015. With a material focus primarily through photography and sculpture, Hall has a knack for breaking convention with an emphasis on the relationship between the environment and the modern world.
Fiona Hall, "nullius nebula" 2020
Considered one of Japan’s most influential contemporary artists, Yayoi Kusama continues to break new ground at the age of 92. Kusama’s highly conceptual work explores surrealism and feminism, among others, drawing influence from a number of different styles. Her installations range from illuminated infinity mirror rooms to brightly polka-dotted sculptures.
Yayoi Kusama, a visitor at the Yayoi Kusama museum inspects 'Starry Pumpkin' [theguardian.com]
Kaylene Whiskey is a Pitjantjatjara artist who continues to gather momentum, having won the 2018 Sir John Sulman Prize and being shortlisted as a finalist for the 2020 Archibald Prize. Combining elements of traditional Indigenous Australian art with modern pop culture, Whiskey creates vibrant scenes that carry strong narratives. Her eclectic works combine subjects like Cher and Wonder Woman with boomerangs, native Australian wildlife and dot painting.
Kaylene Whiskey, "Seven Sisters," 2017
Raised in Colombia and based in Brooklyn, María Berrío crafts meticulous works with layers upon layers of Japanese paper. Berrío’s pieces focus largely on her reflections and expressions of women and culture, often blurring lines between the physical and the spiritual. She also cites a connection with nature as a recurring theme in her works, making use of materials like paint and sequins for an added dimension to each piece.
María Berrío, "The Augur", 2019
Anicka Yi is a conceptual artist best known for intersecting art and science, with a particular emphasis on sensory experiences that explore how taste and smell can be used to express her ideas. The South Korean artist takes the unique approach of harnessing live or perishable materials like flowers, soap, bacteria and even swabs from the human body – often to question society’s interpretation of concepts like germs and hygiene.
Anicka Yi, "Maybe She’s Born With It,” 2015
Andrea Mary Marshall
Andrea Mary Marshall is a contemporary artist from New York best known for her painted and photographed self-portraits exploring femininity, sexuality and identity. In one of her most iconic exhibitions, The Feminist Calendar 2016, Marshall contrasted provocative, sexualised images with raw, understated representations. Rather than criticise the former, her works suggest a link between the two in an appreciation of the many shades of femininity.
Andrea Mary Marshall, "The Neue Issue," 2020
When it comes to challenging sexism and racism, Wangechi Mutu has firmly established herself as a leading international artist. Through various mediums including painting, film and sculpture, the Kenyan-American artist approaches ideas around society, culture and colonialism from a platform of her own experiences. Mutu often uses a combination of paint and magazine cut-outs to create unique, semi-abstract collages.
Wangechi Mutu, "I Speak Black Orchid Through My Mouth," 2015
Technology is ever-present in the modern world and Patricia Piccinini’s multimedia works explore its profound impact on our lives. Perhaps most famous for ambitious works such as The Skywhale, the Australian artist blurs the line between the natural and the artificial in an exploration of reproduction and genetic experimentation. Piccinini often sculpts humans with animalistic features, or the other way around, along with interactions between people and imaginary creatures.
Patricia Piccinini, "Skywhale," 2013