"Forgotten Women in Art"
Written and translated by Serioshka Hellmund
In the Cambridge English Dictionary, History is defined as:
Idiom make history (Definition of history from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)
We know that history starts when writing starts, and we have several branches of knowledge such as archaeologists, historians and astrologists that give us paint strokes of an unknown and mysterious past. However, we really do not know what of written history is truth or lie, fabrication or discernment; it is not an addition of hard data, accessible and clear, history is the embellished or satanized memory of a few, fixed photograms of fluid events. Sparkles of truths, anecdotes, gossip, inventions, arrangements that are useful in the understanding of our present, to demerit or exalt a person, group, idea or philosophy… Rarely will be encounter a real recount of what happened when we weren’t there. As a small exercise on the fallibility of story telling, we can chat with the person whom we had breakfast with and re-tell, carefully and minutely that which happened in said breakfast, and we will see important discrepancies, half memories, something in which our partner in crime focused and we didn’t… anyway… history is a path made with blows of memories and evidence which interpretation is subjective, sayings, hearsay, writings, drawings and speculation. But also, it is a path manipulated to serve the interests of the moment in which it is written and re-written… A narrative that will adjust to the social parameters of the time and the needs of the victors, the powerful, and sometimes, the frightened one.
It is here, in the XXI Century, in the posthumanism, where we start discovering that history up to now is told with half-truths, hidden lies, changes that were convenient for those who wrote or those who paid. In humanism (S XIV) (Raffino, 2020) man became the centre of the narrative… Not any man, white catholic of protestant occidental male. Man as the gravitational centre of all stories, of all heroisms, advancements, achievements. Man with the tangential presence of a woman or some character of the original people… I have several examples:
¿Who was the first person to climb the Everest? Edmund Hillary, and after many years of silence the Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay presence was included, in a possible prior arrival, and I quote “… The 7th of June of 1924, Mallory and Irvine and 4 sherpas, had arrived to the VI Camp at 8230m.” 4 sherpas, men, possibly Nepalese, whose names do History has forgotten… They are not white men.
Another example, the first person to ever make fiction films was a woman, Alice Guy, who, for years, made two short films per week. Another such example, we have all seen the film “Hidden Figures”, about the women who made the launching of the first ever space trip possible. Engineers with privileged minds, who despite discrimination they arrived on time to be part of the historical and technological event of world magnitude, nevertheless, for years, nobody knew of their participation and nobody cared, their names: Frances Northcutt, Margaret Hamilton, Katherine Johnson and JoAnn Hardin Morgan, they were not only women, but black women so doubly discriminated. I can not forget to mention the other group of forgotten people, homosexuals, women and men alike, like Alan Turing, who discovered the Enigma Code, (with a team of women, by the way), and who died ignominiously, regardless having taken one of the most important steps to end WW2. And like these, I could have enough examples to knit an exquisite and beautiful rug, with a colourful and asymmetric beauty, uncomfortable and illustrative.
In the universe of fictions that is Art History, there are many omissions that time has not been able to bury in their entirety, and that thanks to recent investigations, the search of alternative narratives and the survival of factual evidence, we have stories that jump out from the standard and that show us voices and paint strokes, visual poetry, sculptures, philosophy, that have moulded the world we live in and that we did not know they were women who broke the glass ceiling of their world… The time to honour those omissions is now, and it is here where I want to add my grain of salt in this banquet of forgotten and unearthed knowledge. I am not a historian, I am an artist and I want to take from the investigations and the revaluated stories and tell you about the life and work of 16 women that changed the course of art history, that taught and open roads. Women that were part of the most significant artistic movements and that, thanks to their input, art, culture and everyday happenings have been enriched. Women that lived in the margin of social norms, that dared to live under the codes of their own philosophy. Women that fought in order to be able to paint, sculpt, write and question society and its ways. In 16 articles, I will tell you about them and us. About the lives that, even from the shadows, have inspired us and who we descend from as artists. We are their descendants in crooked lines, indirectly, sinous and dusty paths, leaving on our DNA, the non-erasable imprints of their visions, their strokes and their love for art.
Each period and each place have their own way of reading history. Today we are in a period in the west called “posthumanism”. Each artistic and philosophical period is brought on in reaction to the one before. So, from modernism we have postmodernism and from reform, counter reform; it is thus, how post-humanism opposes humanism, where the main premise was that Man was at the centre of everything, an anthropocentric idea, man as creator and main character of history, taking unseating God. It is from post-humanism from where we, today, look at history.
Post-humanism looks at humans from their creed, nationality, ethnicity, class, gender, race, dis/ability etc. There is no more centre, there are several points of view and not just the Eurocentric one that has been predominant up to now. It is now when the “other” brings their voice to the narrative, our discourse, our perspective. Today we have gender studies, race studies, nationality studies… re-interpretations of history and philosophies that question the official narrative and the past, the deconstruction was one of the movements that invite us to question, to take every phrase and every word and look for the signifier in the significant. (Ayala Aragón, 2013).
Image 1.- Author's diagram.
The notion of human in the XXI C, es the posthuman, a thought that is divided in several variations, critical posthumanism, cultural or philosophical; transhumanism, democratic or liberal, extropianism, antihumanism, metahumanismo and new materiality, to name a few. The explanation of posthumanism is too long for the purposes of this article, be it enough to know, that it comes from humanism lost visions, silenced voices, hidden acts: (I vehemently advise you to see Doctor Ferrando talks on posthumanism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrcZ75x6mYc).
On recent studies it has been discovered that many of the ancient cave paintings were done by women, a fact that, had been completely looked over previously, it was simply assumed they were made by men. (Hughes, 2013) (Totenart, 2016). The exclusion of women in the art world is relatively recent, since, according to art historian Jordana Pomeroy, it is very possible that the artists that are now being redis/covered, were recognized on their own time, and were excluded subsequently, attributing their art to men, this is the case of Judith Leyster, whose works were attributed to frans Hals, such fraud, is so evident that the even painted on top of Leysters signature and falsified Hals’ one. “Maybe women artists were not considered geniuses int their time in the same way as men, but they were included, it is us, who subsequently have excluded them” Jordana Pomeroy (Luke, 2019).
Yoko Ono was practically obliterated behind John Lennons fame, however, she is an artist in her own right. She belonged to “Fluxus”, who took conceptual art to the extreme (trilnick, 1962), (Fahrenheit magazine, 2020). One of her works, that I find very moving, is having recorded silence in a professional recording studio, she then took the tape, and she cut it in one minute fragments, and then she sent these fragments to her friends. Clearly, this fragments could not be reproduced. It is simply a gesture, a conceptual poem. The gift of silence is absolutely beautiful. Similar to John Cages composition “4:33” (cage, 2012),(Luna,2018), and yet with a different intention.
Margaret Keane painted the works that her husband, Walter Keane signed. Tim Burton made an adaptation of the artists story in film called “Big Eyes”, the story of one woman and of many, many more.
Image 2.- Still from the film “Big Eyes” by Tim Burton.
Female writers have not fared much better, we know that many writers had to change their names to a masculine one, and many of their works were attributed to males. It is the world we live in, a world whose history is full of erasures, amendments, scratches, footnotes, coffee stains, yellowed pages, some torn, others burnt, many blurry. And this, is not only a fact, but also an opportunity and an adventure. We can discover and rediscover all that we were taught at school, we can learn to read the lies and arrangements, we can start to understand the world we live in, immerse ourselves in stories, anecdotes and tales. This is why, around 20 years ago, biographies started having a historical relevance, for each individual story is the story of a moment, a place, a people. It’s “the History”, each life becomes a tile in a colourful and contrasting mosaic. Each page of the diary of a child is the history that will move us. It will move the part of us that is her, her sadness is our sadness and her achievements ours as well. “The diary of Ana Frank”, is the daily life of a young child and it is the lives of hundreds of thousands in a time when historians tell us about the general, from her own country and her own story, and it is here, the particular life that has reached all corners of the world. Another personal diary that also reached said corners, tells us a very different version of the same moment and the same space, Hitlers’ autobiography “Mein Kampf”.
Our vision is nurtured of all stories. We understand the world and our world will be better when we listen without judging, read without knowing and become most similar to a blank canvas.
We start making connections: the white canvas, budist meditation, “the teachings of Don Juan”; and the world becomes a neuronal net, ideas interconnected, people, places, quantic entanglement as explained by Jacobo Grinberg Zylberbaum in “The Syntergic Theory” and Rupert Sheldrake in his morphic fields theory. ¿How did I get here, talking about women in art and posthumanism? Well… I really do not know, what I do know, is that each of the women that I will tell you about, will take us to a place where we have already been, to passions that are ours, to the secretes we keep… to roads that we have travelled or will travel. I introduce them to you.
Hildegarda von Bingen (1098-1179)
Sofonisba Anguissola (1535-1625)
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1653)
Judith Leyster (1609-1660)
Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842)
Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)
Camille Claudel (1864-1943)
Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938)
Hilma Af Klimt (1862–1944)
Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979)
Lyubov Popova (1889–1924)
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)
Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980)
María Izquierdo (1902-1955)
Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)
Bridget Riley (1931- …)
Low Middle Ages
Post Revolutionary Art
Image 3.- Author's outline.
 Not to be confused with the humanism of Aristotle and Plato. http://humanismoyvalores.blogspot.com/2010/12/platon.html
Ayala Aragón, O. R. (2013). La deconstrucción como movimiento de transformación. Ciencia, Docencia y Tecnología, 79-93.
cage, j. (30 de enero de 2012). youtube. Obtenido de https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHL1Wuj0RaE
fahrenheit magazine. (04 de noviembre de 2020). Obtenido de https://fahrenheitmagazine.com/arte/yoko-ono-la-artista-y-activista-del-movimiento-fluxus#view-1
Hughes, V. (11 de octubre de 2013). National Geographic. Obtenido de https://www.nationalgeographic.es/ciencia/los-artistas-prehistoricos-podrian-haber-sido-mujeres
Luke, B. (23 de enero de 2019). The Art Newspaper. Obtenido de https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/erased-and-uncovered-how-female-old-masters-signatures-were-disguised-by-dealers-to-attribute-their-work-to-men
Luna, I. L. (11 de julio de 2018). Depósito Sonoro. Obtenido de https://depositosonoro.com/2018/07/11/john-cage-aseguraba-que-no-existe-el-silencio-en-este-mundo/)
Raffino, M. E. (14 de noviembre de 2020). Concepto.de. Obtenido de https://concepto.de/humanismo/
Totenart. (30 de septiembre de 2016). Obtenido de https://totenart.com/noticias/las-pinturas-rupestres-tienen-huella-femenina/ )
Trilnick, C. (12 de junio de 1962). IDIS. Obtenido de https://proyectoidis.org/fluxus/
Vilar, P. C. (s.f.). mundo nómada. Obtenido de https://www.mundo-nomada.com/blog/el-misterio-del-monte-everest-quien-lo-subio-primero)
Gombrich, E. H. (Ernst Hans), 1909-2001. (1978). The story of art. Oxford :Phaidon.
Harrison, C., & Wood, P. (2003). Art in theory, 1900-2000: An anthology of changing ideas. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.
Walter Shaw Sparrow (1905). Women Painters of the World: from the Time of Caterina Vigri, 1413-1463, to Rosa Bonheur and the Present Day. London Hodder & Stoughton.