Last week I attended an online webinar, organised by fiveleavesbooks and moderated by Jenny Swann. Griselda Pollock talked about 'Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology,' in which she and her co-author Rozsika Parker question whether feminist critique of Art History effected any change in the way artistwomen's works are viewed, written about in the academic sphere and distributed into the world in art publications, exhibits etc. Her answers include words like 'appaling, pathetic' about the economics of publication that exclude artists women from being seen in books, catalogs and museums. Feminist art history doesn't share an equal place in the curriculum, because of the stereotypes associated with feminist art historians/artists/writers/critics. The circuit interlacing financial value, symbolic value and public cultural understanding of why it is important for the diversity of our world to be seen in our art world isn't fully cracked yet. (An impressive numerical study of the undervaluing of artistwomen has been done by Helen Gørrill in her 2020 book 'Women can't paint, Gender, the Glass Ceiling and Values in Contemporary Art.') This eschew situation deforms our imagination generation after generation and disinforms the public. Paraphrasing Griselda Pollock: "think of those little children who go to the museums with schools and do not see themselves there, think of those young women who don't see themselves 'represented,' who don't have the experience oh look this is someone like me hanging in a gallery and the painter as well, I could do that."
The webinar took place at about the time Kamala Harris made her VP acceptance speech in a white suit, honouring the suffrage movement. Her message to young girls:
“While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities. And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before. And we will applaud you every step of the way,”
This is not just an art world issue. All layers of public life matter and play a role in this social movement. A publication by a Belgian author Karen Celis 'Feminist Democratic Representation,' makes the argument for an intersectional update of women's group representation in electoral politics, incentivising elected political representatives to know more and care more about women, move beyond tokenism, to talk with them and not about them.
Vigilance, perseverance and keeping faith ('spreading it' as Biden says), insisting on inclusion, calling out misrepresentation is what will bring about change in how women shape their lives, their opportunities and help us all move towards a truly egalitarian society. All of us deserve to be seen, represented and taken into account. There's still lots of work to be done.