International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th each year and has been for the last 100 years. It is an important day in the global calendar to recognise the social, political and economic achievements of women. It was a wonderful day to shout about the achievements of women, to celebrate and empower each other. Over on the Second Home Instagram, we celebrated our favourite women artists both past and present.
Monday the 8th of March 2021 was a wonderful day to pause and celebrate incredible women.
However, it seems to me that today, Tuesday the 9th of March 2021, is a great day to get back to smashing the patriarchy.
I could speak on so many issues here (the inequitable affect of the pandemic on women, the gender pay gap, gender bias and the expected roles of women in society) but I’ll stay in my lane. Today I’d like to draw your attention to gender inequality in the art world.
It is not news that women have always been treated unfairly in the art world. In fact, only 13.7% of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are women. 
Closer to home, female artists account for just 4% of the National Gallery of Scotland’s collection . Out of the 2,140 works of art in Aberdeen’s Galleries and Museums, just 182 of them were by female artists . That’s just 8.5%. Further to this, just 3 artists were women of colour. That’s 0.3%.
Photo credit: Kirsty Cameron
In the interest fairness and balance, there are a few contributing factors to these statistics.
I took the figures based on this list of work (https://artuk.org/visit/collection/aberdeen-art-gallery-museums-2151), but the catalogue doesn’t seem to be completely up to date. For example, I don’t remember seeing the very prominent neon Tracy Emin piece listed, nor do I remember seeing the Glaze Spectrum by Hillary Love. Further to this, Friend of Aberdeen Art Gallery & Muesums made purchases from several female artists at last years HAAN design market. Both of these statements are just my own local knowledge and not listed facts.
A portion of the artworks have not been accredited to an artist. Most of these were paintings of ships so I think it’s fair to assume that the majority of these live in our Maritime Museum. It wouldn’t be fair of me to assume the gender of the artist based on the subject matter. Some of the other artworks were listed with initials only, presumably to not mark gender.
Many of the artworks in Aberdeen Art Gallery and our museums are incredibly old. In fact, 734 of 2,140 artworks in Aberdeen Galleries + Museums are dated before 1870. If we consider the fact that women were largely barred from artistic professions and training until the 1870’s, it’s easy to see where the inequality starts.
But why does the problem persist today? Various hypothesises have been discussed including representation and education; cultural interpretation of art; motherhood; a lack of female curators, collectors and gallery representatives; the lack of assertiveness in female artists. There is probably validity to some of these hypotheses.
The lack of female representation at the “top” of the art world (curators, collectors and gallery representatives) means that women artists are struggling to get their foot in the door. Galleries and artistic institutions with global reach have the ability to champion artists, fund their work and introduce them to art collectors, but this privilege is being afforded to male artists. A lack of women is decision-making and leadership roles is prevalent with in and with out the art world. This points to a systemic level of oppression which large institutions are upholding.
Change can be found not within these huge institutions (yet), but within the independent galleries and art organisations.
Photo Credit: Look Again
If you’re in Aberdeen, you will have heard of Look Again. They’re the folks behind the popular Look Again Visual Art & Design Festival, the Look Again Project Space on St Andrew Street, and a whole host of other events, exhibitions and opportunities. However, you might not know that Look Again is run by four absolutely incredible women - Sally Reaper, Hillary Nicoll, Claire Bruce, and Laura Reilly. These women are responsible for the aforementioned HAAN design market, which lead to the acquisitions by Friends of AAGM, and the Creative Accelerator Programme which provides creative businesses with support over a 12 week period. In the 2019 Creative Accelerator Programme, 9 of the ten participants were women.
SMART Art Agency, also based in Aberdeen, exists to provide platforms and opportunities for artists to present their work in Aberdeen and beyond. They have curated some of the best exhibitions that Aberdeen has seen, partnered with Look Again to showcase far flung talent, and even turned an abandoned University union into an artist themed department store. It takes a village to run events on the scale that SMART have, but it is the work of Sally Moir and Claire Bruce that make it all possible.
At Second Home Studio + Cafe, we have hosted 18 workshops to date, 17 of which have been run by women. 85% of our exhibiting artists have been women, and to date they have generated £5,937 in income to local artists. If you didn't already know, Second Home is run by a woman.
In Scotland, female-led creative businesses contribute £4.6bn to the Scottish economy each year . In the North East of Scotland alone there are over 2,500 female led creative businesses. According to Artfinder (an online marketplace for independent artists) women consistently outsell their male counterparts, with women generating £1.6million to the mens £1million.
The economic data above suggests that as a society, we can see value in work created by women artists. The big question is, when will large scale art institutions begin to value womens' art work in the same way?
And finally, my question to you is what are you going to do about it?