By Nadja Sayej
In 1979, a group of women in Santa Rosa marched in a DIY parade holding up a banner that read “Sonoma County Celebrates Women’s History Week”. No one could have foretold that this grassroots initiative, founded in 1978, would become the foundation of a worldwide Women’s History Month.
In the years that followed, the National Women’s History Project was born, just as women’s history made its way into school curriculums across the country. In the 1980s, President Jimmy Carter recognized Women’s History Week, and Bill Clinton recognized Women’s History Month in 1995. This year, there are numerous exhibits across the US that celebrate great female artists. Here are eight of them.
2 Women of Style
Two women who helped introduce the female gaze into fashion photography are featured in a new exhibition opening at Staley Wise Gallery in New York. Opening on 5 March, 2 Women of Style showcases the works of Louise Dahl-Wolfe; who shot for Harper’s Bazaar in the 1930s, and Stephanie Pfriender Stylander; a New York photographer who shot Kate Moss in 1991, when she was just 17 years old. “She was this unknown girl from London who was unusual, petite and had something in her eyes,” said Pfriender Stylander. “I thought, ‘this girl is going to be a star,’ Kate has this rare ability to become another. It is innate for her.”
On 28 February, the New York Historical Society opened an exhibition tracing female protests over the past two centuries in Women March. The exhibition celebrates the centennial of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920, and all the related struggles before and after. Featuring photos, video and ephemera, there are pink hats from the 2017 women’s march on Washington and a handwritten petition to Congress, written by women in Pennsylvania in 1838, as well as photos of working-class women in New York marching for higher wages in 1911. They’re shown alongside a photo from a clothing workers’ strike from 1915, where one protester holds a placard that reads: “We shall fight until we win.”
I Am … Contemporary Women Artists of Africa
Until 5 July, the National Museum of African Art in Washington is showcasing 27 African female artists who create artwork relating to community, politics, identity and race. Paintings by the Nigerian artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby are shown alongside hand-sewn portraits by the Malawian artist Billie Zangewa and the sculptures of the Moroccan artist Batoul S’Himi, too, who turns kitchen cookware into political symbols. Also, on view are photos by Zanele Muholi, a South African artist who has been photographing black lesbians since 2006. “I thought to myself, that if you have remarkable women in America and around the globe, you equally have remarkable lesbian women in South Africa,” the artist says. “I’m basically saying that we deserve recognition, respect, validation and to have publications that mark and trace our existence.”
Hammer Projects: Ja’Tovia Gary
The Dallas-born, Brooklyn-based artist is showing a film at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, which was shot in Harlem, as well as Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France. This three-channel film, Giverny Suite, features interviews with women on the street, shown alongside clips of Nina Simone, political protests and the Facebook live video recording of Diamond Reynolds, who witnessed the St Louis police shooting of her boyfriend Philando Castile, which became an outcry for racial justice. Gary also recently opened her first solo exhibition at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York.
One artist with her paintbrush on the pulse of pop culture is Jo Hay, who creates portraits of female leaders. Her series Persisters, some of which are on display at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum in Massachusetts in March, shows Elizabeth Warren, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “The act of making these portraits has been cathartic and empowering, while also becoming a record of this watershed moment in time,” said Hay. “Elizabeth Warren has relentlessly championed the causes for families and those in need, particularly women and children. She skewered billionaire candidate Michael Bloomberg in the Nevada Democratic primary debate. Commanding the stage, she proved the fight is far from over.”
Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico
At the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico looks at the Mexican artist’s shots of her home country taken between 1969 and 2007. From indigenous women to lonely landscapes and Frida Kahlo’s crutches, more than 140 photos are on view. Iturbide captured women like no one else – showcasing their strength and style in equal measure – having photographed the Seri, Juchitán and Mixtec societies. One of her most famous photos is a woman wearing an iguana headpiece. It’s what the NMWA director, Susan Fisher Sterlin, calls “allowing us the opportunity to experience her country through her eyes”.
Catalyst: Art and Social Justice
Gracie Mansion, the city-run museum located in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, opens a group show of social justice-driven artwork called Catalyst: Art and Social Justice on 7 March. Featuring more than 50 artists, the exhibition highlights issues artists have struggled with, from sexism to racism. On view will be paintings by Teresita Fernández which depict the “slash and burn” land management of Native Americans, and photos by the French American artist Martine Fougeron of South Bronx trade workers, from green roof builders to bakers and steel workers. “Catalyst puts us in the middle of urgent national public conversations,” said New York’s first lady, Chirlane McCray. “This exhibition is certain to upend perceptions, expand awareness, and fire the imagination.”
The Book of Ruth: Medieval to Modern
Who wrote the Book of Ruth in the Bible? Nobody really knows. The book, focusing on the great-grandmother of King David, covers immigration, famine and flight. Twelve ancient manuscripts are now on view at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York. “The book of Ruth is the only book of the Bible told from the perspective of a woman,” said Roger S Wieck, the manuscripts curator. “Its protagonist, Ruth – a poor woman, an outsider, an immigrant – is very much living in a man’s world.” The works are shown alongside a contemporary manuscript crafted by the New York artist Barbara Wolff made with calligrapher Izzy Pludwinski, which is written in Hebrew and English.