Four Contemporary Female Artists Explore Gender, Class, and Identity
As an artist and art historian, I spend much of my time exploring galleries, memorizing — and being mesmerized by — art journals such as ArtNews and Juxtapose, and sifting through Sotheby’s catalogue. I am continually amazed by what artists have created in relationship to the times we are living in and themselves. Though there are hundreds of artists that I love and admire, I have chosen four that have shaped — and are still reshaping — the landscape for women artists in the contemporary art world.
The most celebrated and recognized artist on this list, Cindy Sherman circumvents traditional notions and gender roles of women through her conceptual photography. Disguising herself in wigs, prosthetics, and intricate makeup, Sherman uses her body to transform into the women of history paintings, fashion, and pop culture icons. While the majority of her work deals with the compromise of identity and social mores, she leaves the majority of her work untitled, allowing open interpretation from the viewer.
Born in Nairobi and based in Brooklyn, NY, Wangechi Mutu re-invents the experience of the female body and re-writes the rules that bind female identity through her sculpture, collages, video, and performance art. Identified as “afro-Futurist,” Mutu situates her art as a dialogue between Africa and science fiction, incorporating machine elements to the human experience. While re-examining class and gender hierarchies, Mutu creates a fantastic and futuristic world that takes the viewer on a journey through past, present and future.
Carrie Mae Weems
A photographer, writer, and video artist, Carrie Mae Weems’ work is rooted deep into African-American history, gender identity, race, and class. Born in Portland, Oregon in 1953, Weems’ uses her photography as a tool for activism with history as her guide. The recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Award, Weems tells stories through her art, weaving together folklore, verse, and contemporary issues to create a complex and extraordinary body of work.
The youngest artist on the list, Diana Al-Hadid was born in 1981 in Syria. Currently based in Brooklyn, Al-Hadid uses both conventional and unconventional art materials to create her sweeping and often astounding architectural sculptures. Mixing polymer and fiberglass with bronze and plaster, Al-Hadid challenges notions of gravity and space, to combine classical sculpture with contemporary forms. Al-Hadid’s large-scale sculpture is an examination of the human condition, contemplating the cycles creation and destruction through her ethereal and monumental structures.
Image credit (above): Wangechi Mutu, “Funkalicious fruit field” (2007), ink, paint, mixed media, plastic pearls, and collage