Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Op-Ed & Introduction by Sasha Wolf

©Susana Raab

As people in the arts we maintain a certain lofty feeling of having long ago evolved beyond basic gender inequalities. Women appear to own and manage art galleries almost in equal measure to men and, well, just go into any gallery or exhibition space and you see women working everywhere.

But, in truth, of the almost 120 member galleries of AIPAD only about one in five are women owned (Association of International Photography Art Dealers). And this holds true more or less throughout the industry. This ratio is better with the Art Dealers Association of America but the imbalance remains. As part and parcel of this reality there are fewer women artists represented at these galleries than men. Pick a handful of galleries and look at their rosters. Unless the gallery is specifically geared toward promoting women artists the imbalance will be clear.

Is this because of a certain bias against women artists or have there simply been fewer women making art? Undoubtedly both. And, of course, this isn’t limited to the arts. Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s top Economic Advisor, set off a firestorm a couple of years ago when, as president of Harvard, he waded into the minefield that is the ongoing debate about the lack of women in the areas of science and engineering.

As I sit and write this, my own gallery represents only two women out of 10 artists. I see, either by submission or recommendation, the artwork of men at a much higher ratio than women. But, still, as a woman, and particularly as a woman who is interested in elevating and promoting other women, I know I need to do better in this regard—I need to be more vigilant and guard against my own complicity and complacency.

But, I do see things changing and I am hopeful that, given the marked progress made in just the last decade, most of the inequalities that I’m highlighting lamenting will be history. That’s how fast things are now shifting. In the late 80s and early 90s when I started making films there were so few women in the film programs of colleges and universities that it was a collective embarrassment to all of us women who were in film. It was a deeply felt, gender-specific embarrassment. And we were genuinely bewildered. Where were all the other girls? Was this a case of women being so unfamiliar and put off by the gear ( i.e., cameras, lenses, film, lights, etc. ) that they couldn’t imagine themselves as directors or directors of photography, sound mixers, grips or gaffers? Or, was the atmosphere-- the boy’s club-- just too intimidating. The photography departments were no better.

But, wow, what a difference 20 years makes. Look at a list of photography and film majors at any of the art schools now and you will see women in equal (or, greater) measure to men. Why women had, in the recent past, shied away from certain fields is, at best, a phenomenally complex question that I am not prepared to try to answer here. But we can highlight and celebrate the fact that things have, indeed, changed.

As we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century it’s easy to see the enormous strides that have been made in gender, race and sexual equality. Barack Obama, a bi-racial man, was recently elected President of the United States. Hilary Clinton, who fell just shy of the votes needed to receive the Democratic nomination, has given up her seat as a United States Senator to become the nation’s Secretary of State (the third woman to hold this post of the past four Secretaries of State -- with the one exception being, General Colin Powell, an African-American man). As I write this, Vermont has just become the first state in the Union to legalize same-sex marriage through the legislative branch, all but guaranteeing its immutability through this codification.

Yet, obviously, inequality still exists and we must be vigilant in working to end it. After all, the first bill President Obama signed, the Libby Ledbetter bill, was designed to prohibit wage discrimination in the workplace. Ledbetter found out, at the end of her 19-year career at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant in Gadsden, Alabama, that all along she was getting paid less than her male counterparts.

So, for now we continue to recognize the importance of supporting the women who are making and exhibiting art; and, are proud to gather some of them here in this book and the accompanying exhibition, and to acknowledge the valuable efforts of groups, like Nymphoto, who have worked to build a community of women photographers.

NYMPHOTO & SASHA WOLF GALLERY invites you to celebrate NYMPHOTO CONVERSATIONS: VOLUME 1 - an exhibition & a book - tonight from 6-8 p.m. at Sasha Wolf Gallery, 10 Leonard Street in Tribeca.

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