I woke up on Thursday Dec 1st 2011 and sensed the day was full of unexpected possibilities. I could feel the electrifying energy of the opening day of Basel just 20 blocks away at the Miami Convention Center on Miami Beach & I was ready to explore the contemporary Art world!
I quickly got ready & set out to get my press pass with the mission to seek out & speak with the female artists showcasing their work at one of the biggest and most important art events in the world. Every year hundreds of collectors and galleries come to Basel Miami to seek out the talented and to support their work.
My soul wanted to experience their creations manifested from the female perspective. My mind wanted to listen to what they have to say about art, the art world, what motivates them to create, live & work as a professional artist. I was happy to have found several significantly talented female artists at Basel & the following is what they had to share!
The first artist I had the pleasure to meet was Johnny Star showcasing at the Scope exhibition in the down town art district. Scope is known for showcasing innovative contemporary artists from around the world.
Star had on display several of her works, one that caught my attention was a classic 50’s house wife style floral couch pillow with an image of her wearing a western cowboy hat as she was pointing a gun towards the viewer. I could automatically see her humor & commentary on domestication of women & the institutionalized role of woman while at the same time being fierce with humor.
Star expressed that regarding her art “ the individual & universal quest for ones path in life is a subject as well as a cognitive psychology, a mystical ritual and is necessary regardless the difficulty of building communities.”
Currently Star uses everyday objects to explore the topics of the home environment & to point out we need art!
“The previous generations in many cultures utilized visual expressions to understand the world & to explain the unspeakable & the unexplainable. In an attempt to help to orientate oneself & to organize the survival of a community...we need art!”
With the passion for community and an attempt to nurture it, Star established her own art project “ sweet home-private art space” in Berlin, Germany in 2011 that not only displays her personal work but also showcasing other artists, gatherings, and collaborations. Star has presented her work at international exhibitions since 1996.
A member of the collective of the legendary punk-hip hop independent bar “ Cafe Anfull” in West Berlin in the 80’s, Star comments that to be a woman in the Art industry, one has to work harder than males as the same as any other industry in our “civilized world.” Though she only dealt with female reps and handlers for the show & had a graceful experience with the show, Star expressed that she also has witnessed glass ceilings for female artists in the greater conservative & hierarchical Art World predominately run by men.
Star also commented that sometimes she had witnessed female artists have to choose between their art career & having a family, while her male artist peers where able to enjoy having both with a devoted female partner who took more of the responsibilities in family life.
Unfortunately a significant percentage of men are proving to be unreliable in all sectors of “civilization” in this aspect and has hindered many female artist & other professional females from having a family and their career. It is also because in order to be taken seriously as an artist in by the industry, one must be constantly be creating works & showcasing at exhibitions. Such an endeavor takes a great amount of time & effort to produce.
I have noticed that the percentage of male artists being showcased by galleries and venues versus female artist is roughly 70% male to 30% female. Also through my travels through the thick of the art industry in both coasts of America I have noticed an abundance of seriously talented female artist yet they have been less represented and showcased at top venues.
It is my belief through my observation from experience that this phenomena is due to a reason that is the same reason as to why in any industry in our “ civilized society” you see less higher positions being filled with females, and even to this day paid an average of 40% - 50% less than their male competitors for the same positions.
It is not that they are incapable or less intelligent. In fact even Time magazine dedicated a whole issue stating females were the majority to finish higher education and even the track record of micro-loans & other business loans have shown that the majority of successful businesses that were funded by these loans have been loans given to female entrepreneurs.
It is because women are so heavily exploited as sex objects in the media and culture they are not taken seriously by many men in management. They do not see the women as capable artist/ intellectual professionals that they should work with, & instead they are viewed as just another pretty woman who has walked into the office that they hope to have a chance to sleep with.
If a man of the same skill set walked in for the opportunity they are automatically seen as that artists/ intellectual and are given a chance to share what they have without this battle women face in most business environments. I have experienced this personally and have witnessed it being done with others in countless various situations!
Though this is unfortunately the norm in our society at present, there were several galleries, one in particular run by a man that represented mostly female artists. One such gallery was the Zadok Gallery headed by Mark T. Smith located in Miami. The Zadok gallery represented only female artist at Scope, one exceptional woman being Chen Man who is a fierce 28 year old female artist from Beijing China whose works captivated my attention!
Chen Man creates beautiful photographic images combined seamlessly with 3-D rendering. She is taking the Asian Fashion Industry by storm working as a photographer for various major fashion houses as well as contributing to Chinese publications of Vogue, Elle, Bazaar, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan & Esquire.
Man’s photographs are very vogue & polished with a dreamy surreal quality as she portrays her female subjects in her work with eloquence capturing their femininity with power! To be a female dominating an industry that is in a country that kills thousands of female new born babies every day, and has a very militant patriarchal culture is very significant! She is an inspiring example of the resilient nature of woman that is unstoppable!
The next amazing female artist I got to discover at Basel was Sonia Suhariyan from Rostov, a city in the south region of Russia. Sonia’s ancestors fled to Russia as an result of an American let genocide in the beginning of the 20th century. Regardless the displacement and brutality, her community managed to preserve their cultural identity & heritage. Sonia’s culture is obviously one of her sources of inspiration for her work.
Carpet weaving is historically the major traditional professions for the majority of Armenian women. Armenian carpets are known for their rich & diverse colors with ornamental motifs. Sonia is a young city dweller & does not weave carpets, but her paintings are immensely intricate with vibrant colors & stitching details reminiscent of the famous carpets of her culture.
When it comes to the sexes, Sonia believes men & women have different perceptions of the world. She thinks that due to biological differences, the female nervous system is wired differently & therefore women have a more emotional & sensual perception. This sense of feminine sensuality is definitely represented in her work.
Sonia says she is inspired by the beauty of this world & is always traveling with her camera to capture interesting images,sophisticated personalities & relations between people. Sonia believes that Art makes our world more beautiful. Art evokes emotions & sensations that enrich us.
Following Sonya, the finely detailed drawings of Lindsay Carron showcasing at the Fountain in the Wynwood Art District in Down town Miami had me stop in my tracks and talk with her while I explored her work on display.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Wisconsin and came out to California in 2007 for college. I've remained in Los Angeles after I graduated.
What is your inspiration for your art?
The inspiration for my art has changed over the years as I have grown and with more things that I have absorbed. The inspiration behind my latest series of ballpoint pen drawings is the constant battle between diversity and equity in the world. To me, everything is meant to be connected, this makes the planet go round. Yet, humanity creates these artificial barriers breaking down the connection, dividing the world, and igniting hatred and chaos. The totem pole theme allows the viewer to sense the necessary and natural connection between all things living. I addition to my intricate, realistic drawings, I am an abstract oil painter. The inspiration behind my oil paintings is the beautiful and ephemeral sense of natural decay. Lately I have intertwined the concept of natural decay with decay in society.
Why are you compelled to be an artist?
Ever sense I was little I have has an incessant urge to create. I love the idea of making something with my own hands and having it be a part of the world. What has kept me creating is the interaction art ignites. I am provoked by the various emotions I illicit, and compelled when my art initiates a change in someone. Gradually, I have pushed my art more and more towards subjects that illicit dramatic reactions from the viewer. The world needs to open its eyes, and I believe this is the job of the artist to make this happen.
How is your experience been as a female artist? Do you think it is different than being a male artist in the art world?
At school, I was sheltered from the disparities of the art world. I had no idea that it was a male dominated field. Being out in the real world, though, has made me realize just how much it is so. This is strange to me, because art is so intertwined with emotion, and the female sex is certainly more connected with emotions than males. Being down in Miami especially allowed me to step back and observe this disparity. I was involved in the creation of several murals throughout the week with a group of male artists from Montreal called En Masse, and this allowed me to get an inside view of the graffiti world, which is even more male-dominated than the fine arts. I noticed reactions of surprise, doubt, and pride when people would watch me as I worked sitting on the scaffolding. That really got me going. I love pushing the boundaries, breaking down the barriers. I felt ignited by a flame in my stomach all weekend. A flame that made me assert myself, take pride in my work, and not be intimidated. One of my greatest inspirations in the art world currently is Swoon. Wow, what a powerful female artist! I feel females have a lot to prove in the art world, but we are a powerful bunch, so keep your eyes open for what we are able to bring.
Where do you want to go with your art & what do you hope people get out of your art?
I really enjoy hearing people's various perspectives on my art. To me, art is and always will be subjective, therefore there is no reason why an artistic creation should mean just one thing. I love stepping back and listening to people discuss the piece, developing their own stories or metaphors. Sometimes they are right on the dot with what I was thinking, other times they are way off. The best is when they offer a fresh outlook on a piece that develops the meaning even further and shares that with me. Overall, I hope people see a delicate female touch in my work in addition to the edgy subjects. This touch can be seen in my line work and in the concepts I grasp. I want my work to display strength, courage, and wisdom, and to give insight into the human mind, so that viewers may leave with a better understanding of an abstract concept or a new outlook. My greatest goal as an artist is to travel the world breaking down cultural barriers and changing lives with art and creativity.
Did you go to art school? What is your artist back ground?
I went to Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA for my undergraduate studies. I was a Fine Arts major with Spanish and Psychology minors. It wasn't an art school, and I meant it to be that way. Art schools may teach you great things about technique, control, color blending, etc., but they don't teach you about life.
Not sure what is meant by artist background, but I believe I inherited some artistic talent from my grandfather who was an architect for many years. My younger brother possesses some talent, but didn't choose to pursue it. My cousin is a photographer and works for Fountain, and she is a big inspiration to me.
How do you think art is important in the world & why?
"The arts are important not because we live by them, but because we live FOR them." - The Dead Poet's Society
Near the end of my time exploring Scope I came across one final female Lisa Ross. Lisa's photographs brilliantly captures the temples & ritual of human spirituality in the ancient lands of Asia & abroad in their natural form.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lisa Ross started photographing at 12 years old.
“It clicked immediately and the world I lived in began to make sense. Being an artist has never felt like a choice; it is part of my identity, a way of life, not a profession.
Thinking of what inspired me....
Art taught me about the world and what it means to be human in a way that nothing else has.
If i remove all creativity from the world it would be a place I would not want to live.
Both of my parents are creative people, my father a writer and my mom a painter so they influenced, encouraged and exposed me to a lot.
My need to create has always been there.”
How has your experience been as a female artist?
“Being a female artist can have its' strength as art making can require sensitivity, depth and insight
(Characteristics attributed to women).
However, the business part of being an artist for me was much more challenging and obscure.
It took time to develop a strong sense of self in the world and to learn how to navigate and negotiate business relations. Business and art making use opposite muscles.
I am referring to things as simple as showing up on a professional level to art events; being prepared to meet people in the art world and represent myself.
No one taught me that and it took years to procure.
I wish that people who see my work, experience the world in a new or slightly different way. I hope it is inspiring and expansive on a sensory level, causing curiosity and getting the viewer to think,
As for myself, my work has already given me so much. It has helped me to experience the world. It has been my teacher, my guide. It has moved me to some of the deepest places I can go. It feeds me spiritually and emotionally.
I'd like to expand the ways I make work in the future. I'd like to continue developing relationships with curators and other artists. I hope to have a book published of the work I made in North West China over the past 10 years and that it is released in time for an exhibition I will have at The Rubin Museum of Art February 2013- July 2013."
Did you go to Art school?
"I never went to an art school really. I went to a great liberal arts school where I studied photography and film.I received a Masters in Visual Arts from Columbia University."
Why is Art important?
"It's easy to understand if you suddenly strip the creative work from every creative person you know and imagine the world without art, then you realize how important the inspiration of art is in the world.
Just like breathing. Hold your breath and you'll realize how much you need it when you let go.”
Lisa Ross will be showing a new exhibition at the Institute of East Asian Studies located at 2223 Fulton Street at the University of California in Berkeley showing March 1st - June 1 2012 with an interesting symposium at the same venue on April 24th 3-7pm titled “ Shamans, Buddhists, and Muslim Saints: The layered History of the Desert Mazar” with various other artist participating in the symposium.
Lisa is also has an exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York February 2013 & a book publication coming out next year published by The Monacelli Press which is a division of Random house.
I also wanted to put out a final shout out for Johnny Star who is showcasing Sweet Home Private Art Space with Robert Fontane Gallery at Scope NYC 2012 June 13th -17th. So if you’re in NYC be sure to check it out, you will not be disappointed!
The week journey in to the depths of Basel had brought me more interesting characters & experiences than I could have imagined! I am deeply grateful & inspired by the beautiful works & performance of these talented women I had the opportunity to meet. I am also happy to witness female resilience and talent being showcased in the world. I hope this article has you the reader inspired as well to go seek them out & support their work created out of love for community & the arts!
What can I say, Girls Rock!
- Yuki Tanaka