Has anything improved since Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? The fact that women make up just 15.5% of the artists’ files on Wikipedia suggests not. According to L’Observatoire de l’Egalite, only 30% of the artists exhibited in galleries are women, even though more than 60% of art students in France are women.
Even so, there is some cause for optimism – as French photographer Vincent Ferrané points out. “Of the top 500 contemporary artists in 2017 [in France], only 14% of women,” he says. “But 30% of those were born after 1980.”
This generational shift sparked off his new series, Visitor, which shows 17 emerging women artists based in Paris. Capturing the artists at work, as well as their creative spaces, the portraits bring women artists to the fore, without making their gender the central focus. “I attempt to describe the freedom, or the search for freedom, of these women artists to exercise their art, and to choose the scope of what the word ‘woman’ means in the expression “woman artist,” he says.
His subjects, many of whom are his friends, gave a variety of responses when he asked whether being a woman affected their art. One said that when she is in the studio, she is simply an artist, and her gender is irrelevant. Another argued that being a woman is an essential element of her work, and that she strategically puts it at the centre of what she creates. Others said that they didn’t have an opinion on this debate, but that they had often been asked to position themselves within it.
For Ferrané, watching these artists work, absorbed in their creativity, was “extremely moving”. “There is something in the artistic gesture that is particularly fragile but disciplined and determined at the same time,” he explains. “Wanting to analyse or dissect this gesture to extract the creative spark in my opinion would be useless. Instead, we must focus on the strangeness and mystery of this activity and get inspired by it.”
Visitor is available to pre-order now, €45 for first edition, or €300 for special edition https://www.libraryman.se/vincent-ferrane-visitor/.