Great Female Artists? Think Karachi

By Alex; Seno, Ra A. | Newsweek International, September 6, 2010 | Go to article overview

Great Female Artists? Think Karachi


Alex, Seno, Ra A., Newsweek International


Byline: Alexandra A. Seno

"Why have there been no great women artists?" asked American art historian Linda Nochlin in a landmark 1971 essay.

Four decades later, her question still stands: while a handful of Western female painters, sculptors, and performance artists--Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, Marina Abramovic--have achieved the same level of fame as their male counterparts, the West's elite art world continues to be dominated by male artists, curators, dealers, and collectors.

Look elsewhere around the globe, however, and women are thriving in some of the most dynamic up-and-coming art scenes. They're even achieving widespread success in a country not exactly known for women's rights: Pakistan. Female artists from the developing Muslim nation have been recently feted in exhibits like last year's Hanging Fire at New York's Asia Society and the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial in Japan.

Women also hold prime positions of influence in Pakistan's art system, running prestigious galleries such as Karachi's Canvas and Poppy Seed, and heading key art institutes such as the School of Visual Arts at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore (under the direction of Salima Hashmi), and Lahore's National College of Arts, which is overseen by Naazish Ataullah.

One reason for the unusually high ratio of female artists in Pakistan has to do with the fact that the art industry has not traditionally been viewed as a lucrative business by men, says South Asian art historian Savita Apte, who administers the internationally renowned Abraaj Capital Art Prize. Until very recently, creatively inclined males tended to focus on fields such as advertising or illustration, leaving the art field wide open for some very talented women.

And these women have been taking the art world by storm: for last year's inaugural Jameel Prize, an award given to Islamic artists at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, both finalists from Pakistan--Hamra Abbas and Seher Shah--were female. …

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