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Famous Artworks You Didn’t Know Were Made by Women

Can you mention five women artists? Here’s a selection of 10 female creators who have not been fairly recognized in art history.

Probably, when you think of names of female artists, the first to come to mind are Frida Kahlo and Yayoi Kusama. That is just a reflection of the historical lack of recognition in art towards women. If you search on the Internet: for “the 100 best works of art,” it’s likely that you’ll find not even one female name.

Can You Name #5WomenArtists? is a campaign launched by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. It challenges the status quo of a History of Art written by the male gaze. With this simple question, the museum has managed to draw attention to the lack of equity in art, inviting the public to share on social networks content of their favorite female artists, as well as to photograph works created by women that are currently being exhibited in a museum or gallery.

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Women have been key to the development of different techniques, and their concerns have been an undeniable influence in various artistic currents and social discourses. To reduce this gap and make visible the “rescue” of characters that have been trapped in the limbo of the art cellars, here are works that you have surely seen in a selfie or on the Internet, without knowing who is behind that image. We assure you that the next time you ask yourself where are the women artists, not only will you be able to mention more than five great female artists, but they will have become your favorites.

The Key in the Hand by Chiharu Shiota

The Japan Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale was one of the most outstanding ones, as it housed an installation composed of thousands of keys from all over the world, hanging from a net of red threads mounted above two boats. Shiota said that it was a poem dedicated to absence and the traces of the past, in which the red threads wrote the memory. The Japanese artist has created a landscape of connections; lines that intersect with others as if they were everyday streets and paths.

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Vom Griesbräu-Fenster by Gabriele Münter

Münter was a member of the expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter; her work shows a Fauvist influence but in the direction of abstract art, with strokes of strong and thick lines.

Coatl by Helen Escobedo

One of the most visited, photographed, and shared sculptures on Instagram when visiting the UNAM Sculpture Space in Mexico City, this is the work of a Mexican cultural manager and artist who transformed the way art is understood in Mexico. Like this piece, Escobedo sought to take art out of museums and bring installations into public space, where people could approach and interact with her sculptures. In this way, Helen explored the possibilities of new materials, shapes, textures, and sizes.

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They Tens Mainstay IV by Hilma af Klint

A pioneer of abstract art, Hilma’s work portrays spirituality, that which the eye is unable to see but which exists and affects us. She joined the Theosophical Society of Stockholm and developed a language based on colors, geometric shapes, and spirals that manifested the order or chaos of the deepest part of the being. Hilma Af Klint turned her back on visible reality to concentrate on her abstraction, long before the work of Kandinsky, Mondrian, and Malevich became known.

Maman by Louise Bourgeois

This work dedicated to the artist’s mother is a tribute to a woman who, like spiders, was a weaver. Louise describes her mother as loving, but possessive and controlling; so this sculpture is a reading of motherhood as a protective and predatory duality. A spider, like a mother, is strong and fragile at the same time. The sculpture has toured many cities around the world and is an ideal representative of the Bourgeois’ work.

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Big Eye Girl by Margaret Keane

Big eyes are the characteristic feature of the characters created by Keane, whose life was brought to the big screen by Tim Burton in 2014. If her name is little known it is because her ex-husband posed as the author of her paintings and became one of the best-selling artists during the 1960s in the United States. It took 12 years of legal conflict before Margaret managed to certify herself as the true author of her children with bulging eyes and cartoonish aesthetics. By then, her style had already inspired animators, illustrators, and contemporary artists, as well as movie make-up and costumes; without acknowledging Margaret’s credit as the creator of a universe as fantastic as it is melancholic.

Sorrowful Friday by María Izquierdo

Izquierdo was the first Mexican artist to exhibit in the United States at the Art Center in New York. She later presented her work in Japan, France, India, and Chile. She developed an aesthetic inspired by surrealist avant-garde, European Modernism, and Mexican culture. In 1945 she was hired to paint a mural in the headquarters building of the Mexico City Government, the theme was “the history and development of Mexico City,” but the mural was never done due to a request from Raquel Tibol, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, who argued Maria’s lack of experience as a muralist.

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Cats by Nahui Olin

Painter, poet, performance artist, composer, and writer her work is considered within the naïf genre, an intuitive style of pictorial freedom whose aesthetics allows her to create paintings with a personal and intimate perspective of the things she observes. For Nahui, painting was a companion that could not be understood without her letters, perhaps that is why she adopted this current that is essentially realistic within an asymmetrical world. She did not portray things as they are seen but as they are felt.

Creation of the Birds by Remedios Varo

Of Spanish origin but nationalized Mexican, Remedios painted with a surrealistic character that allowed her to mix all her interests such as mysticism, science, and magic. Her art can be read as a metaphor, and in this work a hybrid being with the face of an owl uses all her wisdom and knowledge as if it were a laboratory, to create new birds to take to the skies. This work could well describe Remedios, a wizard creator of worlds that fortunately are continually exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City.

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Girl in Green with Gloves by Tamara de Lempicka

Tamara’s Art Deco portraits adorned more book covers than any other artist of her time, as well as being a favorite of collectors and stars such as Barbra Streisand and Madonna, one of her main collectors. Her portraits are striking for their abstract yet cubist and futuristic aesthetics, without losing the glamour of life in Paris or New York. De Lempicka portrayed red-lipped women as outrageous and independent as herself. Her style undoubtedly influenced movie stars and the construction of iconic women, as well as the avant-garde of pop art and comics.

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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