The gaps in history are slowly being filled in virtual space. Previously deafened stories, narratives, and sidelined accounts are now gradually, finally, starting to be heard. Any dominant version of history serves to perpetuate the idea that it has been strictly men who have made the most meaningful and worthwhile artefacts to instruct our current understanding of the world, predominantly men who have produced the only true relics of culture, and still largely men who inform current ideas of credibility.
Online, activists are piecing together the missing side of history; herstory. The identity category required for an enriched and whole understanding of the past is wide and inviting. It is being recast in shades beyond Euro-American men. Women, non-binary people, trans-people, people of colour, non-western folk, lesbians, gay-men, to name more than a few, are now being included in narratives of the past and this in turn promotes contemporary sensitivity towards those with deliberately unheard stories and unacknowledged creations.
A fundamental channel that can lead to enhancing our understanding of the past is art. Art acts as the mark of humanity, culture, individuals, society, and is an extension of imagination and thought. For society to ignore and reject both the potential for, and creation of marks made by women and fellow ignored peoples, is to filter meaning and repress experience. Art has the potential to renew and curate what ignored people contributed to society, lived life like, and how we situate individuals in the past. This very potential of art is built upon layers of understanding, which thrives on critical engagement with current knowledge and ideologies of gender. This is why unearthing the women of the past, the voiceless people of the current, is so important within art; art cannot progress without it.
Re-writing women into art’s history calls for collectors, artists, investors, curators to become agents of change. It calls for art to be reflective in its present, and critical of its past, in order to produce a richer future. This isn’t about paying homage to only a handful of rich, white, Western women, but to create a landscape of diversity and inclusivity into the understanding and narrative of art in both its production and curation. The people who rob art of its potential are those in positions of power, who direct what larger public sees and comes to know as major talent in our time and times gone by.
Investors, collectors and curators orchestrate knowledge and can instruct future demands for art. But individuals too are powerful beings. The Internet, particularly resources like Wikipedia offers a plethora of knowledge in seconds. But, much like our understanding of the past, anyone who is not a man is largely left out. Wikipedia generates information spouting incomparable successes and achievements of men, uncontested because there is a gender imbalance in the editing. This has led to a particularly familiar narrative that presupposes a ‘natural’ lack of contribution by women, especially within the arts.
Fortunately, grassroots activism is doing what it does best: reveal, critique, and instigate change. Art + Feminism is a worldwide project dedicated to creating and improving content on women in the arts on Wikipedia. MTArt is collaborating with this group on the 10th April from 6pm at 47b Museum Street to change what currently posits itself as a totality of human knowledge.
Art is a way of accessing entire ideologies and stories, it is meant to be heard, so why continue to ignore so many voices?