Women in Art History: Part Two

image via Travel Innate
[image description: the hall of a museum with Women in Art History Part Two written over it in white text]
Article by: Alexis Daigle

[Silhouettes of different scenes featuring slaves.]

Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, 1994

Born November 26th, 1969, Kara Walker grew up in a multicultural community in California. However, at the age of thirteen, her family moved to Georgia, where she faced rampant racism and verbal attacks. It was here that she began to read literature about the history of the South and the violence slaves faced every day. This and her passion for art led her to attend Atlanta College of Art to mainly study painting and printmaking. Due to pressure from her instructors, she focused on racial issues. After Atlanta, she attended the Rhode Island School of Design, where she expanded her interests in art to include sexual violence. Walker’s work focused on portraying stereotypes and the horrific violence of the antebellum South in a way that forced the viewer to consider these scenes, no matter how uncomfortable it made them. Most of Walker’s works portraying these scenes are paper silhouettes that make understanding the piece in its entirety a struggle of the mind.

[Silhouettes of people in a scene involving weapons and swans.]

Walker’s first installation in 1994, titled Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, was a wild success. The installation shot her to art fame and opened many doors for her. However, despite the success and awards she earned, not everyone viewed her art as progressive. Several other artists thought that her depictions of stereotypes and violence were crude and offered nothing new to art. Walker’s critics thought that her artwork was perpetuating stereotypes, rather than addressing their issues.

[Paper silhouettes of scenes with colored light showing over them.]

Since then, Walker has had a daughter and created many more pieces, including a sculpture of the Sphinx cast in white sugar, displayed inside an old sugar factory. She has continued to play with silhouettes and lighting to bring different moods to her artwork. Walker is an artist who is still in the middle of her career and this is just the beginning of her story.

[A statue of a young boy stands in front of a white Sphinx.]

A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant, 2014

More Kara Walker resources/works are available here!

[A statue of two lovers dancing together.]

Camille-Rosalie Claudel, born December 8th, 1864, was a female sculptor who primarily used bronze to depict feelings of love. As a child, Claudel was taught by the Sisters of Christian Doctrine, and when her family moved to France, she studied art at the Colarossi Academy. By her teens, she was known for her talent for sculpting. In the early 1880s, Claudel met famed sculptor Auguste Rodin, who became her mentor and lover for about a decade before their relationship ended. Most of her sculptures focused on intimate scenes, which women of the time period rarely studied or learned about. However, because of Rodin’s mentorship, she studied the human form where she normally would have never been given the chance.

[A woman kneels at the feet of a man who is walking away.]

After their separation, Claudel devoted her time to sculpting in order to separate herself and her art from Rodin.  She lived as a recluse, dedicating her entire life to her sculptures, though she often destroyed the art she created. Finally, in 1913, she was committed to an asylum against her will. She spent the last 30 years of her life in an asylum. Most of Claudel’s recognition for her amazing art has come after her death.

[A man holds the head of Medusa about her body on the ground.]

[A woman with short hair plays the violin.]

Antonietta Raphaël, born in 1895 in Lithuania, was a Jewish singer, sculptor, painter, and artist. The youngest of fourteen children and the only daughter, Raphaël helped her mother earn money after her father’s death by embroidering, giving piano lessons, and singing. Despite having dedicated her early years to playing the piano and singing, Raphaël began to draw when she was 23.

[A man sketches while sitting down.]

When her mother died in 1919, Raphaël briefly lived in France before attending the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. It was here that Raphaël met Mario Mafai, a fellow artist who she would be in a lifelong relationship with. They had three children together throughout the course of their relationship. The two of them also worked with Gino Bonichi, an artist better known as Scipione. Raphaël, Mafai, and Scipione worked together in a studio and taught others together. Of the three, Raphaël was known for having the most wild imagination, which showed through in her art. After showing art in various countries, Raphaël and Mafai moved to Paris, where they lived in poverty, unable to make money off of their art. Their poverty and similar art styles caused tension between the two, so Raphaël took up sculpting. Raphaël’s sculptures were done in a variety of mediums and usually featured her daughters or dramatic scenes.

[A sketch of a naked woman.]

However, when anti-Semitic laws were passed, the family fled to Genoa, where Raphaël and her daughters lived safely with Jewish art collector Emilio Jesi. Around this time, Mafai was enlisted in the army: Raphaël’s art around this period reflects her sadness. After the Second World War, Raphaël’s art was exhibited in a number of galleries and she went back to sculpting and painting regularly until her death in 1975.

[A man holds a cat like a baby.]

These female artists are all incredibly inspiring to me. They opened pathways for other women to create and didn’t focus on others’ opinions of their art. All of these women created for the art, and they ignored the male gaze that came with it. I picked these artists specifically because their stories and artwork inspired me to create carelessly and I can only hope that sharing their stories will do the same for others.