Feminist artists bring new perspective to the art community

Story by Alexandra Malloy

The first cover of Inquire, a new online magazine dedicated to feminist issues and women’s arts.
Photo courtesy of Eva Viera

MADRID–Removed from the hustle of Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, in the Fundación Entredós, a sanctuary for women to socialize and embrace the arts, two friends – an artist and an anthropologist – stir their tea and chat about their work on the new online feminist art magazine Inquire.

Eva Viera, 36, and Cristina Lagoma, 33, both identify as feminists and are actively engaged within the feminist art scene in Madrid that many say is expanding.

“Art is a way to create a reflection and reflect upon society,” said Viera, whose portraits of women of various ages appear on the cover and homepage of Inquire. The magazine, which launched in March, trumpets itself as a showcase for “artistic proposals and opinion with a gender perspective.”

Traditionally the art community in Spain is considered to be a man’s world, but female representation and the role of the feminist has continued to grow through presence and participation. And finally, artists and academics say, the perception that women can be successful artists is starting to shift.

“It’s not easy to be a feminist artist or considered a feminist artist because the art world is very paternalistic so you have a double fight,” said María María Acha-Kutscher, 46, an artist and activist who was originally from Peru but has lived in Madrid since 2001.

The renowned London-based Tate museum defines feminist art as works created by female artists to directly visualize and interpret feminist theory that began in the 1970s. Although that definition is more traditional, feminist art is also very much a personal interpretation of the concept.

“In the art world, there have always been women present and it’s growing, but in the economic aspect of controlling the arts there hasn’t been growth,” said Jesús Casas Grande, 55, subdirector general of programs in the Institute of Women and Equal Opportunities. The institute, which is a branch under the Spanish Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality, is tasked with ensuring that national laws are enforced. It also collects data on gender equality as well as creates “concrete programs” that work on a ministerial and local levels.

“A lot of people controlling the arts aren’t women,” he noted, adding that he hopes that will soon begin to change.

Marián López Fernández Cao, 51, the president of the Madrid association of Women in Contemporary Visual Arts, or MAV, states that every year, most museums have a budget to buy female work to balance inequality within institutions.

“In the Prado there’s very few women artists, and none were on display,” said Cao, who is also a professor and the previous director of the of Instifem, the feminist research institute of Universidad Complutense de Madrid. “Now we have seven [works],” including 14th century Flemish painter Clara Peeters, Italian Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola, Italian Baroque painter, Artemisia Gentileschi and 15th century Italian painter Giulia Lama.

“It’s not much but it’s something,” she said.

According to MAV, 23 percent of artists who exhibited at ARCOMadrid 2015 were women. The show was held in Madrid through the end of February to the beginning of March and is the largest international contemporary art fair in the world with more than 100,000 visitors. MAV found that Spanish female artist representation at ARCOMadrid only rose 1.5 percent from 4.4 to 5.9 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Marisa González, vice president of MAV, points to a painting dedicated to Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who was a symbol of freedom in her country of Myanmar.  Photo by Joe Thomas

Marisa González, vice president of MAV, points to a photograph dedicated to Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who was a symbol of freedom in her country of Myanmar.
Photo by Joe Thomas

MAV also reported that out of the 28 galleries to show within ARCOMadrid 2015, only six were managed and run by women and six were co-directed.

Yolanda Domínguez, 38, who also identifies as a feminist artist from Madrid and mainly focuses on the use of video and photography, knows that female representation is low within Spain but is optimistic in the growth.

“I think in feminism we have advanced but in other things we’ve gone back,” she said. “I think feminist art is now well-known because there is a lot of works. We are making associations to make our art more visible.”

Some of the most recognizable female artists within Spain include not only Domínguez and Acha-Kutscher, but also Ana Laura Aláez from the Basque region, Carmen Calvo in Valencia, Eulàlia Valldosera in Barcelona, Suzy Gómez in Mallorca and Cristina Iglesias from San Sebastián.

Part of the reason feminist art has gained more attention is because, as stated by Domínguez, feminism is increasingly perceived as cool.

“Madrid has a more active feminist position and that’s evident in Madrid because it’s something that moves quicker because feminist activism is more present,” said Grande. “Madrid is non-sectarian, it’s a very open and comprehensive community.”

Fourth-wave feminism, which has emerged in the last 10 years, has been informally recognized as a heavily activist movement of feminism. As stated by Acha-Kutscher, the feminist scene within Madrid is largely divided between academic feminism and activist feminism.

Acha-Kutscher identifies herself and her work along the lines of activism. She states that when she moved to Madrid in 2001 after living in Mexico City, she decided to work as an artist with a purpose and contribute to the feminist movement. Her ongoing series Indignadas, or “Outraged Women,” was born out of the “15M movement,” which was the anti-austerity protests that overtook Spain in 2011, as well as Occupy Wall Street, radical feminist protest group FEMEN and Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot. Her work is created through transforming photographs into drawings and implementing her academic graphic design background.

“There’s a conjunction between feminist art and feminist activism,” said Acha-Kutscher. “It’s very important that [artists and activists] work together.”

For Viera and Lagoma, the Inquire project is inspired by the iconic font and cover layout of the men’s magazine, Esquire, and calls attention to female portrayal in the media through art and writing. Viera uses digital retouching instead to highlight each subject’s facial characteristics rather than create the commonplace airbrushed and idealistic images.

Through her studies and art, Viera has largely focused on the feminine role throughout history within her photography and videographic work. She is currently exploring how the childbearing feminine figure of the neolithic era has influenced society, spiritually and art.

“There’s a large chunk of history, other than the patriarchy, that experience a lot of peace because the sexes were equal,” said Viera. She hopes that her work will empower viewers and create a new collective of voices.

María María Acha-Kutscher, a popular new face in feminist art, sits in front of one of her works.  Photo by Joe Thomas

María María Acha-Kutscher, a popular face in the feminist art scene, sits in front of one of her works.
Photo by Joe Thomas

As noted by Cao, art itself doesn’t have to be strictly defined as feminist in order to increase awareness of the movement.

“There are a lot of women in the arts making things who are very conscious of their body and their culture,” said Cao. “It’s feminist if you realize you have a female body and it marks you in this society.”

Looking at Madrid, Viera and Lagoma have seen groups ranging from artistic to political bring forth feminist issues and bring the feminist fight into the mainstream parts of society.

“We want to propose new roles for women, for art and women, because sometimes the women are invisible,” said Lagoma. “We want people to know that you’re a girl and can do whatever you want.”

Cao notes that the problem with society applies to both women and men, noting the necessary means to reach equality and full implementation of the equality law is through compromise.

“With clear criteria most of inequality would disappear,” Cao said.

Madrid itself has been host to numerous feminist groups such as MAV, the Feminist Assembly of Madrid and the Feminist Policy Forum, as well as conferences and shows such as Cyberfem and the MAVForo, or MAV Forum.

Grande, who had previously worked at an environmental organization before joining the Institute of Women and Equal Opportunities, says that’s only the beginning. He’s excited to be part of what’s to come.

“People ask my why I work for women because I am not a woman, but I used to defend ducks and I wasn’t a duck,” he said. “Even though men and women are different, that difference doesn’t translate to having different rights. I am a feminist, I don’t work for women. I work for equality between men and women.”

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