Over the course of the twentieth century, new societal structures and changes provided a space for women to take on new roles. Women were awarded university degrees, became professors, pilots and doctors. However, they were still maligned in general and each opportunity came with its own struggle and antagonisms. Even today, women earn on average 10% less than men in equivalent jobs. The feminist movement has not yet managed to resolve the issues of employment, empowerment and motherhood effectively. Many women feel more pressure than ever to be society's image of the perfect woman. Additionally, one in four women will require treatment for depression in their lifetime, in comparison to one in ten men.
Since the 1960s, many artists have begun to create works from a feminist perspective that will help to expose the prejudice women face, reassess history with women in mind and muse on the conditions and experiences of modern womanhood. Even before then female artists had begun to lift the veil on the inner reality of being a woman and all the sadness that may come along with it. Many of these works provide an extremely intimate and honest depiction of the day-to-day personal difficulties the artists have faced.
Sophie Robertson, Rage (2008)
This photograph’s bathroom setting creates a sense of intimacy - perhaps it is a private moment. The subject of this portrait is fully made up with pristine hair. She is surrounded by the trappings of a modern commercial life (her corset, the mirror, the wall tiles) and yet she appears angry with this situation. Her rage may be directed at the emptiness of an external culture, at the specificities of her own life, at the expectations of women. We do not know. In her most authentic moments of frustration, she is entirely alone.
About the Artist
Sophie is a British born artist and designer. She studied Fashion Photography at Central St. Martin’s. After working for some time as a photographer for magazines and fashion houses she moved to Sydney and has designed a line of accessories under the label Atoll.
Dorothy Bohm, Torn Poster, London (1990)
Torn Poster, London brings together Bohm’s photographs of other posters she had found in and around London. She has assembled them to look as if they had each been posted on top of one another and torn away with time. This amalgamation of images serves to highlight the way time or perspective can change the understanding of an image. Placing a fragment of Picasso’s Guernica, a piece made to mourn the Spanish bombing, alongside an image of a female explorer gives the woman a military feel, for example. The piece challenges the viewer to rethink the potency of a poster’s message.
About the Artist
Dorothy Bohm was born in East Prussia in 1928 to a Jewish family. She was sent over to England alone in 1939. During the war, she studied photography in Manchester. She later moved to London, continuing her photography practice. She was reunited with her family by the Red Cross in the 1950s.
Sarah Lightman, It’s OK (2006)
In this diary drawing, Lightman draws herself. The caption in the corner of the image appears to speak of a heartbreak or disappointment. Without the caption, the work just shows a woman in a meditative moment, but when it is added, Lightman’s vulnerable side is exposed to the viewer.
About the Artist
Sarah Lightman is a London-based curator, artist and editor. She studied at the Slade school of Art and has recently completed a PhD analysing women’s autobiographical comics. She runs Laydeez Do Comics, a graphic novel forum.
Ellen Kuhn, The Seamstress (1981)
Many of Kuhn’s prints from this period deal with the glamourous contribution that Jewish emigres made to Hollywood cinema. In stark contrast, The Seamstress shows a woman hunched on an uncomfortable stool in a dank room corner. The print is depleted of colours and mirrors the difficulties of her working conditions. In contrast to the glamour of many American film stars, producers and directors, the Jews in London’s East End worked in clothing workshops where they were often paid little and expected to work long hours.
About the artist
Kuhn was born in 1937 in Germany, although she moved to America with her family at the age of two. She studied art at the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley. After teaching art in high schools in New York, she moved to London, working at the Print Workshop from 1962-68, where she produced lithographic prints and etchings.
Alicia Melamed-Adams, Tears (1993)
Many of Melamed-Adams’ paintings look at the pain and suffering she experienced during the Holocaust. She has said that after the war ‘painting provided the only solace I knew. It helped me heal my wounds.’ This piece (not shown due to copyright) combines painting with magazine cuttings. The two come together to form the image of a woman mourning. The juxtaposition of the intense loss and tragedy of the Second World War and the commercialised images of women models and expensive watches depicts a sense of disconnection with the world that many survivors reported experiencing post-war.
About the Artist
Alicia Melamed-Adams was born in Truskawiec, Poland, a short time before the Second World War. As a teenager, she spent time in a concentration camp and is the sole survivor of her family. After the war, she married a fellow survivor and they emigrated to London. Melamed-Adams studied painting at Central St. Martin’s and uses her art as a meditation on the loss and trauma she has suffered.
Dodo, Annunciation (1933)
Dodo produced this work at a tumultuous time in her life. After the birth of two children in 1930 and 1932, she met and fell violently in love with the Jungian psychoanalyst, Gerhard Adler. Torn between her children and her new lover, who was moving to Switzerland, she eventually abandoned them and followed him. While in Zurich, she underwent four months of psychoanalytical treatment before the relationship disintegrated. Over the course of her relationship with Adler Dodo got pregnant and had abortions twice, and often entertained suicidal thoughts. This work depicts the anguish of this period of her life in visual form.
About the Artist
Dodo Burgner (1907 - 1998) was a Jewish German artist from Berlin. She studied at the Reimann Schule and initially worked as a fashion illustrator and costume designer and satirist during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1936 she emigrated to London where she remained until her death. Dodo was extremely influenced by Jungian psychoanalysis, and was briefly married to the psychoanalyst Gerhard Adler.