The Women Artists Who Deserve Our Attention, According to 9 Leading Artists
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating female-identifying and non-binary artists who deserve greater recognition. And who better to shine the spotlight on them than some of the art world’s leading women artists? Below, nine established artists—Shirin Neshat, Tara Donovan, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Anicka Yi, Rachel Rose, Diana Al-Hadid, Arlene Shechet, Senga Nengudi, and Laurie Simmons—tell us about the emerging and underrepresented talents who inspire them.
Shirin Neshat recognizes Soudeh Davoud, Bahar Sabzevari, and Nathlie Provosty.
The Iranian-born, New York–based Shirin Neshat is acclaimed for poignant films and moving photographs that offer a feminist view of Islamic culture and politics in the Middle East. She is currently featured in a solo show at Denmark’s ARoS Aarhus Art Museum; her largest exhibition to date, “Shirin Neshat: I Will Greet the Sun Again,” recently closed at The Broad in Los Angeles and will open at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in February 2021. In 2019, Neshat curated a show of work by fellow Iranian women artists with the Center for Human Rights in Iran.
B. 1987, Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in Tehran.
“Soudeh Davoud, living in Iran and working under extreme conditions including censorship and lack of freedom of expression, manages to paint subversive and politically charged images that are clearly feminist commentaries on living inside a patriotic society where tyranny rules.”
B. 1980, Shahroud, Iran. Lives and works in New York.
“Bahar Sabzevari’s self-portrait paintings are fascinating grounds for her many obsessions; her own self-image as a young Iranian woman living in Diaspora; motifs drawn from traditional Persian paintings; and her love for animals and living creatures including lizards and alligators.”
B. 1981, Cincinnati, Ohio. Lives and works in New York.
Nathlie Provosty, Palinopsia, 2019. Courtesy of Nathalie Karg Gallery.
“Nathlie Provosty represents a new generation of painters with a fresh relationship and engagement with abstract and minimal art. Her work carries strong emotional force and resonates mysticism of an unknown nature.”
Diana Al-Hadid recognizes Iva Gueorguieva, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, and Mequitta Ahuja.
Through looming sculptures, paintings, installations, and works on paper, Diana Al-Hadid brings the narratives of historic civilizations into contemporary settings. Born in Syria and based in Brooklyn, Al-Hadid has drawn inspiration from the traditions of Old Master paintings and Islamic art. She has recently been featured in solo shows at the Frist Art Museum and the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
B. 1974, Sofia, Bulgaria. Lives and works in Los Angeles.
Iva Gueorguieva, Dona in the Garden, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.
“I first learned of Iva Gueorguieva’s work in 2009, and have loved watching her tremendous evolution over the past decade. She works intuitively, working on the floor to cut, glue, dye, and paint muslin scraps into an ethereal hanging tapestry of color and line. She lets the painting hang free of its frame; the painting reads like a skin or screen, and shifts our attention to what is happening not just within the work, but the space surrounding it. She thinks of the tapestries like female bodies, ripped by birth, stretched, bruised, but still holding themselves up, like a banner proudly asserting itself in spite of the structures that have failed to truly support its weight.”
B. 1980, Mochudi, Botswana. Lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“I’ve been an admirer of Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum’s beautiful and ambitious works since I met her in 2007. She makes drawings, animations, and installations that feature moments of an invented mythology in which alternate selves time-travel in the future and past. Her works bring science, history, geology, cosmology, and genealogy together in these imagined universes. I’m obsessed with her landscapes in which figures move through mountains and other wild geometries in vivid, electrified tapestries. Her first monograph is forthcoming and she is speaking at the Phillips Collection in March for its ‘Conversations with Artists’ series.”
B. 1976, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.
“I have been in awe of Mequitta Ahuja’s paintings since I had the pleasure of sharing a residency with her in Siena in 2014. Her mission is to change the expectation of the self-portrait, in particular of women or people of color, who are expected to mine their personal biographies as case studies in our social condition. She merges past and present ideas of self-portraiture, and in doing so, simultaneously destabilizes the genre’s old and current conventions. Her radically personal work shows recent scenes of her pregnancy and motherhood, and intimate views into her studio as she paints the very painting we are seeing. Her work is smart, funny, beautiful, and challenging all at once. Her work is now on view at the Phillips Collection, the Flint Institute of Arts, and the Blanton Museum of Art.”
Senga Nengudi recognizes Baseera Khan.
For four decades, Senga Nengudi has created incisive and dynamic sculptural and performance works, typically employing pantyhose, to make resounding statements about race and gender. She is currently the subject of a retrospective at Munich’s Lenbachhaus that will open at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo this May.
B. 1980, Denton, Texas. Lives and works in New York.
Performance documentation of Baseera Khan, Braidrage, Albany University, 2019. Photo by Ariana Sarwari. Courtesy of the artist and Simone Subal Gallery.
“I live in Colorado Springs and Baseera Khan was doing a performance here at the Fine Arts Center. She was aware of my work, so the curator asked if I could come see her, and of course, I’m always interested in performance. It was pretty dramatic and rigorous. She was dealing with issues of being a woman of color, but also the limitations of her culture. And that’s really significant to me, because artists of color have additional limitations that just the regular white person doesn’t have. You’re representative of the culture; the culture is constantly looking at you, judging you; there’s this constant pressure from the art world.
“The performance was called Braid Rage (2017). She had this piece that looked like long, Rapunzel-like hair coming down in segments along the wall. She actually climbed these hair pieces; she was like a mountain climber in a sense. It was very exciting and courageous. She told me she was climbing as high as she could in a building that wasn’t made for her. That was indicative of a lot of things I’ve experienced as well, so there was that commonality. I was really hooked on how she approached her work and how she was dealing with these issues of being a woman of color. I think her work is very exciting and it covers a lot of the issues that we see today, obviously racism, but also the immigration situation; all the issues that I’m concerned about.”
Laurie Simmons recognizes Elektra KB, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Grace Graupe-Pillard, and Dominique Duroseau.
Laurie Simmons, who is known for feminist film and photography, selected artists from “Abortion Is Normal,” a two-part show in New York she recently helped co-organize with Marilyn Minter, Gina Nanni, and Sandy Tait. “The show’s curators Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Jampol put together a group of artists whose works focused on choice and reproductive justice,” Simmons said. She also recently co-curated with Dan Nadel “All of Them Witches,” an exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in Los Angeles.
B. Odessa, U.S.S.R., raised in Colombia. Lives and works in New York.
“Her installations for ‘Abortion Is Normal’ were both incredibly powerful. The second one, in particular, spoke to Queer and Trans visibility (or lack thereof) in the context of reproductive rights and reproductive justice.”
B. 1985, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Lives and works in New York.
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Do the Work, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.
“Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is probably best known for her public art interventions. Tatyana is the creator of the ongoing ‘Stop Telling Women to Smile’ project. Her book, named after the project, just came out. Her work in ‘Abortion Is Normal Part 2’ addressed the often-overlooked discussion of how reproductive rights and abortion access impact Black women. It incorporated text from ‘We Remember: African-American Women are for Reproductive Freedom’ in a larger-than-life wheat-paste mural.”
B. 1941, New York. Lives and works in New York.
“Grace Graupe-Pillard is a New York painter, public artist, video artist, and educator. Born in 1941, the work that she included in ‘Abortion Is Normal Part 2’ was autobiographical, and reflected on her own pre–Roe v. Wade abortion. She is also a master of social media humor, and has an ongoing series of works that live on Instagram. In these works, Grace takes images from current events and Photoshops herself, totally naked, into the scene.”
B. 1978, Chicago. Lives and works in Newark, New Jersey.
“Dominique Duroseau’s work uncovers the complexity of topics and identities such as black feminism, oppression, sexuality, and access. These are issues that at times intertwine, may seem at odds, and are never mutually exclusive. Dominique’s work is multidisciplinary, spanning performance, sculpture, and video.”
Honorable mentions from “All of Them Witches”: “Ellen Carey, whose photo self-portraits from the 1980s and ’90s look absolutely perfect now; Francine Spiegel, a painter and performance artist; and the late Renate Druks (1921–2007), who was born in Vienna, worked on the West Coast, and made beautiful, mysterious paintings.”
Tara Donovan recognizes Katie Bell, Eva LeWitt, and Kim Brandt.
Tara Donovan is renowned for creating otherworldly sculptures and installations from surprisingly simple materials—slinkies, straws, Scotch tape, pencils, styrofoam cups, and straight pins are among her chosen supplies. Her 2018 retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver was the museum’s best-attended exhibition to date; it traveled to the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago last year.
B. 1985, Rockford, Illinois. Lives and works in New York.
Katie Bell, Standing Arrangement, 2019. Photo by Jessica Bingham. Courtesy of University Galleries at Illinois State.
“Katie Bell somehow manages to combine a hyperlocal approach to scavenging salvaged utilitarian materials with the delicate compositional balance of abstract painting. Using the architecture of the gallery itself as an armature, the objects she deploys become reduced to a schematic of line, form, and color that unites all of the seemingly disparate elements in the space.”
B. 1985, Spoleto, Italy. Lives and works in New York.
“Eva LeWitt’s sophisticated approach to materiality plays with physical properties such as light reflection/absorption, transparency, flexibility, and weight. She constructs textural sculptures and installations with a languid relationship to gravity that gives them a tranquil yet voluptuous sense of repose. Their calming effect is complicated by her use of layering and the resulting cumulative patterns and color variations that adapt to the changing atmospheric conditions of the spaces they inhabit.”
B. 1979, Albany, New York. Lives and works in New York.
Performance documentation of Kim Brandt, Clear Night, 2016. Photo by Bradley Buehring. Courtesy of the artist.
“Kim Brandt is a choreographer who creates ensemble works that play with collectivity and isolation by exploring a minimal movement vocabulary defined by a few actions and positions that are often pedestrian in nature. Her work blurs distinctions between performer and audience. By employing an incremental, process-oriented approach within a given site, she draws attention to how individual bodies negotiating space together build proliferating, time-based structures.”
Lynn Hershman Leeson recognizes Janet Biggs, Carla Gannis, and Sara Eliassen.
Lynn Hershman Leeson is a pioneering new-media artist who has spent five decades investigating the relationships humans have with technology. Her esteemed work—spanning drawing, sculpture, film, photography, interactive installations, and net art—prefigured our current obsession with screens. Leeson will open her first solo museum show in New York this June at the New Museum.
B. 1959, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Lives and works in New York.
“Janet Biggs uses performance to amplify under-known regions of the planets. She travels to remote destinations, often dangerous ones, to create video environments that bring those regions into public view. Her performances have extended to ‘voyages to the moon’ and she has lately added musical components to these projects.”
B. 1970, Oxford, North Carolina. Lives and works in New York.
“Carla Gannis has brought ideas of AI to emoji, like creatures as well as alter egos of herself. These characters explore and inhabit online worlds and communicate their findings onto other platforms. She often uses historical precedents like Bosch to amplify the relevance of this work.”
B. 1977, Oslo, Norway. Lives and works in Oslo.
Still from Sara Eliassen, The Feedback Loop, 16mm documentation of public screen intervention at Oslo Central Station, 2018. Commissioned by The Munch Museum. DOP Philip Øgaard. Courtesy of the artist.
“Sara Eliassen has been traveling between Oslo and Mexico City the last few years to continue her investigations that will lead to a video installation about the politics of the region. She does spectacular multi-screen video installations that explore the psychological intersections of art and political systems.”
Rachel Rose recognizes Jessica Sara Wilson.
Rachel Rose quickly became a leading voice in video art, creating idiosyncratic installations that transport viewers into narratives around subjects from the Revolutionary War to cryogenics. Her work has been featured in some of the art world’s most important institutions and exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale and the São Paulo Bienal; this year, she will have solo shows at New York’s Park Avenue Armory and Paris’s Lafayette Anticipations.
B. 1991, New York. Lives and works in New York.
Installation view of Jessica Wilson, “Faulty Bulb,” Crush Curatorial, New York, 2019. Photo by Zorawar Sidhu. Courtesy of Crush Curatorial.
“I first saw Jessica Wilson’s series ‘Faulty Bulb’ in her studio as she was working on it during her first year at Bard. ‘Faulty Bulb’ is a series of hyperreal animations of an ambulance of light passing through an apartment window. Wilson creates these quiet animations with such virtuosic detail—articulating every glint of a reflection in the flashing lights, every rustle of a leaf—that the emergency feels quiet, subdued, disarmed in her animation. In nature, animals use mimicry, camouflaging themselves in their environment, to protect themselves from threat. These works are mimetic, and so, show us sublimated danger, with that anxious feeling, still there.”
Anicka Yi recognizes Precious Okoyomon, Avena Gallagherand, Tenaya Lee Izu.
Seoul-born, New York–based artist Anicka Yi creates intriguing conceptual works that embrace science and the senses. Recently, she concocted a line of perfumes that exude the essences of powerful women; past works involved experiments with living carpenter ants, bacteria, and snails. Yi was featured at the Venice Biennale in 2019 and won the Hugo Boss Prize in 2016.
B. 1993, London. Lives and works in New York.
Installation view of Precious Okoyomon, “A Drop of Sun Under the Earth,” the LUMA Westbau, Zurich, 2019. Courtesy of the artist, the LUMA Westbau, and Quinn Harrelson / Current Projects.
“Precious is a brilliant poet and chef who is a part of Spiral Theory Test Kitchen. I believe she is expanding the boundaries of what art can be. She is a multi-faceted performer, writer, sculptor, and chef. I love Precious’s multi-subjective voice. Her work intersects with important stakes around post-identity and representation.”
B. Seattle, Washington. Lives and works in New York.
Exterior view of Avena Gallagher, Free Sale, 2019. Photo by Avena Gallagher. Courtesy of the artist.
“Avena Gallagher is an established fashion stylist who has collaborated with multiple artists on different projects. She has been the creative director, along with Babak Radboy, for Telfar this past decade. Avena organized a ‘free store’ last winter in Chinatown. She filled a space with mounds of objects from the last 30 years of collecting (and somewhat hoarding) goods, and invited the community, as well as underserved women from prisons and homeless shelters, to take what they wished. This project resonated with me deeply.”
Tenaya Lee Izu
B. 1992, Oakland, California. Lives and works in New York.
Tenaya Lee Izu, Ghost, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
“Tenaya is a courageous, politically minded young artist who I admire greatly. Their sculptural language is sensual and laden with their values. Their work embodies values irreducible to identity politics about race and gender. Tenaya’s work offers new vistas into thinking about these issues, but not mired in clunky containers.” (Editor’s note: Lee Izu identifies as a non-binary trans person.)
Arlene Shechet recognizes Aline Porter and Doris Lee.
Arlene Shechet is perhaps best known as one of the leading contemporary artists working in ceramics, though her compelling sculptural practice expands far beyond a single medium—incorporating wood, concrete, and metalwork, among other materials. Shechet is featured in the Whitney Museum’s current craft survey, “Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019,” and her new works are now the subject of a solo show at Pace Gallery in New York.
B. 1909, Brookline, Massachusetts. D. 1991, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Aline Porter, Summer Fruit . Courtesy of the Owings Gallery, Santa Fe.
“Aline Porter was Eliot Porter’s wife and Fairfield Porter’s sister-in-law. I learned about her from spending time on Great Spruce Head Island in Maine—living in the house there where Aline summered, feeling her presence, and seeing some of her paintings. She and Eliot and most of the Porter family are great naturalists; Aline was a great observer of the natural world. She did these beautiful paintings of wild flowers that she found every summer that inspired me and various artworks of my own. She was a really talented painter, who maybe was most known as the relative of more famous men.
“Aline and Eliot spent the latter half of their lives in New Mexico. I heard that she was friends with Agnes Martin and that Agnes only had one painting by somebody else in her studio, and it was by Aline.
“I know members of the Porter family, and the family lore is that Fairfield would always invite Aline into his studio to give him critiques. She was the one who had the good eye. And I can tell that from living in her house and seeing her paintings—very beautiful, modest paintings, with great color and energy.”
B. 1905, Aledo, Illinois. D. 1983, Clearwater, Florida.
Doris Lee, Dark Pool. Photo by Noel Allum. © The Estate of Doris Lee, courtesy D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc.
Doris Lee, High Flying Picnic, 1950. Photo by Noel Allum. © The Estate of Doris Lee, courtesy D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc.
“I saw some of Doris Lee’s work at a local auction in Woodstock and learned she was a resident Woodstock artist at a certain point in her life. In the 1950s and ’60s, she also did set design in Hollywood, as well as doing paintings. I really love that. I like the range of what she was able to do. I bought a beautiful little watercolor of hers. She seemed to be a great observer of daily life and had a wonderful touch. She’s not a household name, but it seems like she could be now.”
Header images from left to right: Portrait of Bahar Sabzevari. Courtesy of Advocartsy. Portrait of Mequitta Ahuja. Courtesy of Tiwani Contemporary, London. Portrait of Soudeh Davoud. Courtesy of the artist. Portrait of Iva Gueorguieva. Courtesy of Graphicstudio USF. Iva Gueorguieva, Borne Out, 2012. Courtesy of Graphicstudio USF. All other artwork images credited in article body.
This article was created in collaboration with Artsy’s Curatorial team.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Tara Donovan uses packing tape and golf pencils as materials in her sculptures. Tara Donovan uses Scotch tape and pencils in her sculptures.