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Feminism in the visual arts...
n.paradoxa has published
500+ articles by or about
400+ artists and writers from
80+ countries in
38 vols since 1998,
plus over 1000 resources on the information pages

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Feminist Art Topics

Current volume:
Polemics/ Contestations
(vol 38, July 2016)

Fran Cottell
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(vol 39, Jan 2017)
(vol 40, July 2017)

Published volumes:
(vol 37, Jan 2016)
(vol 36, July 2015)
(vol 35, Jan 2015)
Lessons from History
(vol 34, July 2014)
(vol 33, Jan 2014)

international feminist art journal


In the early 1970s, Nancy Spero started the “RIP-OFF” files as an exercise within Women Artists in Revolution (W.A.R.) to analyse the situation of women artists. In launching RIP-OFF.2, n.paradoxa wishes to copy her example and open up a digital variation of this project to name and identify sexism at work in the art world as it affects women artists.

This is not about naming or shaming individuals. Comments will only be posted anonymously and in an anonymised form. RIP-OFF.2 is about naming what sexism is and how sexism operates in art education, the gallery system and art museums today.

RIP-OFF.2 is about identifying sexist attitudes, behaviours, “asides” and statements which reveal how sexism in the art world operates in its most lazy, thoughtless, complacent and business-as-usual manner. Business-as-usual is the current status quo where, in spite of the huge strides forward in women artists’ representation in the last 40 years,  men still dominate the art market, the key teaching positions, the work shown in museums and as the ‘artists’ who are known and celebrated. This form of business-as-usual is supported by both men and women as the "status quo" and "culture-as-it-ought-to-be". In this situation, women artists are still just not considered a part of the principal cultural agenda but remain half-forgotten, marginalised or simply ignored. In difficult economic times, women’s progress in economic terms is often undercut as particularly young and old women (in both high and low-paid jobs) experience the downturn most acutely. Things have changed in the art world for women artists since the early 1970s, but this progress is not enough. Shows are still organised around key themes, movements or media, without women artists’ work being included or recognised. Curators can happily name their favourite woman artist, but she is still an exception in their mental picture of the art world and their identification of key players. In this situation, the volume of feminist art exhibitions or shows of women artists remain just a minor corrective footnote to history.

Sexism is not just enacted between people, face-to-face, nor is its repeated form, just another personal problem between individuals or an individual’s hang-up. Sexism works because it is a shared set of beliefs. Sexist attitudes are rarely challenged and they remain entrenched in artists’ everyday working lives and attitudes. Sexism is closely intertwined with racism and discriminations on the basis of class, age, sexual preference and ethnicity. 

In spite of affirmative action, equal opportunities legislation, gender mainstreaming agendas, the activities of Guerrilla Girls and Women’s Art Change, the alliance between human rights and women’s rights, sexism continues to have a quiet and insidious institutional presence, often only visible through statistics or surveys of attitudes and feminist activities drawing attention to its existence. Sexism, which remains unspoken and un-named, informs the decisions of gatekeepers in government bureaucracies, in art schools, in museums, in galleries, about who is included and who is excluded; who is “in” and who is “out”. It is not a quality question, when women artists form 50% of contemporary artists but they appear in major group exhibitions at around 20%-30% on average. 

In identifying sexism and examples of anti-feminism, RIP-OFF.2 wishes to point to the attitudes which have determined why discrimination still persists; why women artists’ work sells for less or women artists have less retrospectives, often later in their careers than their peers; why women artists don’t get teaching jobs or run most major institutions; why women artists are not seen as central to developments in contemporary art; and why women artists do not just succeed but must excel to become visible in the art world today.

You are invited to send to n.paradoxa by email examples of incidents, remarks, events and statements, which reveal sexism at work in the art world. These will only be posted anonymously and in an anonymised form on this site (after editing and verification).

Some Real Examples

In 2009, Feminist Philosophers (UK) start a 'Gendered Conference Campaign' to raise awareness of conferences with all male panels (and volumes, and summer schools) [and] 'of the harm that they do'. Citing on their blog, that it's not about "causes",
'Our focus is on their existence and effects. We are therefore not in the business of blaming conference organisers, and not interested (here, anyway) in discussions of blameworthiness. Instead, we are interested in drawing attention to this systematic phenomenon. (We also have an awesome theme song. And an interview about the theme song can be found here..
The harms: All-male events and volumes help to perpetuate the stereotyping of philosophy as male. This in turn to contributes to implicit bias against women in philosophy, which very likely leads even those genuinely committed to gender equality to evaluate women’s contributions as less good than men’s. (It may also in some cases be caused by implicit bias, which means that women’s names will leap less easily to mind than men’s, but that is not our topic here.)'
The blog has lots of information for conference organisers wishing to facilitate a larger percentage of women on their conferences, their publications, their summer schools. In the turn of philosophy towards art or art conferences about philosophical themes, the same bias exists.
We should join their campaign!

A woman art historian and a male artist are competing for a position as head of an art school. The man is well-known, even notorious, for his remarks about the inability of women to conduct research and his dismissal of their work as artists, as well as partaking in all male-artist projects. Without discussion of who is applying, a group of museum directors gather to support the importance of the candidacy of an “artist” to this post and their enthusiasm is reported in a daily newsletter. Is it possible that those making the decision can be prepared to disregard the misogynistic views of this artist on the women who train or work in the school, just because he is an "artist" and to pass over a woman candidate for these reasons?

A woman goes for a job as a lecturer in an art school. At the interview, one of the panel ask her to explain her interest in feminism as it seems to him “passé” and “unfashionable” and not very relevant to contemporary art today. This same question cannot be asked of the other four candidates who are all men, and they were not asked to explain their research in such a negative fashion with such a deliberate and public put-down.

A male curator of major exhibitions routinely "borrows" unpublished ideas by female colleagues. In one catalogue, he finally thanks five women for their assistance in the acknowledgements list, a new practice for him, even though the work they have contributed is not footnoted. Three of them are women he has slept with.

A female curator puts together a show documenting the history of an emergent art movement. Only male artists are included. Some feminist artists send her a kind letter reminding her of the importance of women artists to this movement. The reply thanks them for their letter but does not acknowledge the significance of their choices to her plans for exhibition which continue without including any more women artists.

New case study

A woman artist organises an exhibition of 8 women artists in a contemporary art gallery. At the opening the Deputy Director of the Government Agency which was the host and funder of the exhibition gave a speech. The substance of the speech concerned only the work of a male artist whose exhibition had been at the same gallery several months before. The speech did not address the work in the show, nor the work of the woman artist who was curator and organiser. Was he at the wrong exhibition? Or did he deliberately decide not to speak about the exhibition of women artists in front of him?