Struggle Continues for Women in Art

Exhibition, discussion depict progress and challenges

The “50 Women: A Celebration of Women’s Contribution to Ceramics” exhibition was a landmark exhibit featuring all women ceramic artists. Held at The Changing Gallery at the American Jazz Museum, it offered occasions for discussions as well as viewing their works.

The “Artist Salon: The State of Women in the Arts” was an opportunity to discuss the status of women in the art world with Renee Blanche, host of the KCUR-FM program Night Tides, and local artist Sonie Joi Ruffin.

Approximately 20 of the artists participated in the conversation with Alex Kraft and Anthony Merino, artists and co-curators of the exhibition, leading the group.

Views on three questions were shared: “What status do women hold today in the art world?” “How have history, politics and social norms informed women’s position in the arts?” and “What is happening now in the art world that will affect the future state of women in the arts?”

Based on the varied responses of the artists and the community participants, women artists have made progress, but more is needed. And artists are not willing to wait 50 more years to realize the level of movement evidenced by this exhibition.

“The first exhibition of all women artists in Kansas City was in 1977,” said Paula Rose, art historian, Kansas City Art Institute. “A lot of progress has been made, but not as much as you would expect. I did my own counts when I was asked to curate a show in 2014 called Young Women Artists. We went around in Lawrence and counted, and we found the same thing [as in 1977], it was about 30 percent.”

When the discussion turned to politics, the majority felt that while there is no conspiracy to eliminate women’s art, sexism is still deeply rooted in history. The exclusion of women artists from textbooks is one example.

One way to rectify this problem: several women agreed to become contributors of women artists’ history to Wikipedia.

Merino said there’s less recognition for women artists than in a fully-empowered group. “There’s still camouflages of institutional and gender biases inside the ceramics field. And a big problem is we see the world in frames that are deeply ingrained as gender bias.”

Arzie Umali, assistant director of the Women’s Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said she believes a lot of the problem has to do with the value and marketability of a male’s name.

“A male’s name brings in higher ticket sales and more money than a female name. You can sell a Picasso for millions of dollars, but how close has a female artist come to that?” said Umali. “I think that sexism is stuck, and we can’t get a price tag higher for women and, unless that happens, anything in the arts that a man does is always going to be valued higher.”

Kraft shared her views about the future of women in ceramics.

“I feel that the ceramic arts are blooming, and blooming in relation to women. I hope in some small way I can affect mediums outside of ceramics, other curations,” said Kraft, “and also in relation to my own teaching, how I can influence the next generation and how I can continue to move ceramics forward to my own female and male students.”

Ruffin, the visiting curator at the American Jazz Museum, served as curator for the 50 Women exhibition. She believed it was a worthy investment.

“The American Jazz Museum is owned by the Kansas City area, and it was very brave and courageous of them to support this exhibit and to support Anthony, Alex and Arzie. UMKC and the museum have relationships with various organizations around the city, and it was important to us to support this exhibit and the ladies that participated because they do understand how important the arts are not only in this city, but to the artists outside of it,” said Ruffin. “Our mayor recently made a statement and said he would do whatever he has to make sure the arts are recognized inside of the city and outside of Kansas City.”

They all agreed.

|Wandra Brooks Green, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications


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