Social Media Spotlight: Curator Katy Hessel and @thegreatwomenartists

If you are looking for some Instagram inspo to encourage you to pick up your paintbrush in Lockdown 2.0, or would love learning about art to be part of your daily life, Katy Hessel’s got it covered. I have been following the celebrated curator’s infamous @thegreatwomenartists on Instagram for years now and it has opened up a wealth of female artists of all mediums, past and present, that my A-Level definitely didn’t cover. 

@thegreatwomenartists has been running since 2015, where Hessel showcases the work of a new female artist every day, with her goal for her social media presence and her curating work to ‘readdress the gender imbalance in the art world by reinserting women back into the cannon of art history’[1].  Her detailed captions with a potted biography of the artist, her thoughts as an art historian, and links to exhibitions lead me down an internet-rabbit-hole multiple times a week researching a new artist that I can’t believe I haven’t heard of before. One of these is Chioma Ebinama, whose haunting watercolours explore ‘formalized religion for its potential to celebrate inner life’[2], and he symbolic use of tone and experimentation with the female silhouette mark her body of work as one concerned with the search for selfhood and art as a tool for ‘self-liberation’[3]. This floating blue watercolour figure really moved me, the delicacy of her fingers and Ebinama’s limited colour palette allow the focus to stay on her tilted head and uncertain posture, we feel this is a woman embodying herself for the first time. Nigerian born but living and working in the US, Ebinama draws inspiration from Western and Eastern artistic tradition, and is currently exhibiting her collection ‘Leave the thorn and Take the rose’ at The Breeder Gallery, Athens, but the full exhibition can be accessed online.

Chioma Ebinama, Untitled, 2020, Watercolour on Paper: 

https://www.instagram.com/p/CFmtGYanIo0/

Another new favourite artist that Hessel has introduced me to is Canadian painter Chloe Wise, who is celebrated as one of the ‘it girls’[4] of the art world for her provocative work, meditating on mass society and the individual. Her latest collection ‘Not That We Don’t’ was exhibited at the Almine Rich, London in 2019 but feels eerily fitting to our present pandemic moment. She inserts emblems of American consumerism into group portraits of her family and friends, with themes of disconnection, and the almost sanitised imperfection of her portraits rendering her work simultaneously playful and chilling. ‘Tormentedly Untainted’ is one of the strongest works in this manicured collection, the bouncing quality of the light gives her subject and unreal quality, with the multiple focal points and overlapping leading lines conveying this sense of overcrowding and the pressures of consumerism on the individual.

Chloe Wise ‘Tormentedly Untainted’, 2019, Oil on Linen:

 https://www.instagram.com/p/CFwHEJxnB-p/

Hessel’s social media success has allowed her to expand her mission to celebrate female artists, launching ‘The Great Women Artist Podcast’ in September 2019 with new episodes released every Wednesday. The podcast is approaching its 50th episode, and this week to celebrate the 5 Year anniversary of the Instagram page, Hessel hosted a special episode with the anonymous art collective ‘The Guerrilla Girls’. 

Lisa G N – Flickr.

Using the names of deceased female artists, Kathe Kollwitz and Frida Kahlo of ‘The Guerrilla Girls’ were my first introduction to radical feminist art, with their ‘data based work’[5] aiming to highlight how gallery exhibitions often only feature women as subject and not as artist, and readdress the gender imbalance of accepted art history and wider culture. They use their platform to question why the art world was dominated by white men, and used their influence to bring attention to marginalised female artists and challenge the prevailing narrative that their work ‘wasn’t up to the standards of the art world’[6] by creating a powerful female counter-cannon. Hearing the founders of this movement discuss candidly how they established their art collective and were ‘sneaking around the streets on New York in the middle of the night pasting these (posters) up on the walls’[7] is an incredible insight into what is truly required to create seismic change, and puts voices and individual stories to their famous protests.

Hessel’s work through social media represents the next leap in this access revolution, where anyone with the internet can now explore, critically discuss and be inspired by female art, with her Instagram feed functioning as its own longstanding curated collection that puts forgotten artists and budding artistic voices on the map.

To find out more: 

@thegreatwomenartists on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thegreatwomenartists/

The Great Women Artists Website: https://www.thegreatwomenartists.com

The Great Women Artists Podcast: https://www.thegreatwomenartists.com/katy-hessel-podcast

Chioma Ebinama Exhibition: https://thebreedersystem.com/activity/chioma-ebinama-leave-the-thorns-and-take-the-rose/

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