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Where are the women in the visual arts?

One of the raging issue now is the pivotal role women play in almost all areas of life. Women are seen in all areas of life, business, civil service, teaching etc, but there seems to be a dearth of women in the arts sector. Why is it so, does the culture forbid them or  what, this was the reason why Art Forum Africa (AFA), a new platform that runs online publication, and organises forum for discourse on matters that concerns artists, curators, collectors, the government and others involved in arts in Africa gathered stakeholders in the arts industry to discourse on the topic, “Where are the women in the visual arts?

• The panellists at the forum
• The panellists at the forum

In his opening remarks, Bukola Oyebode, co-founder of AFA, said the ratio of male to female representation in the visual arts is small, hence the question of ‘ Where are the women in visual art? Speaking further, Oyebode said, “I believe this forum will garner some solution on the discussion.

Take for instance,they are more men in the hall than women ,and in terms of representation via publicity, galleries and functions, the ratio of male to female is small.

Presenting the panellists which included Peju Alatise, a renowned artist and architect based in Lagos ; Azu Nwabogu, Executive Director, African Artists’s Foundation, with Ugonma Adegoke, an independent Curator and Creative Director, The Life House and Zebra Living; Wana Udobang, Co-founder AFA, and moderator of the discussion; in her remark, said, “ It is important that women are not written out of the historical narrative in virtual arts.

It would be doing our future and the future of emerging artists a great disservice. The arts are about story-telling and this also means that we will experience the dangers of shutting our diverse narratives.” Udobang added that recurring research on artists’ representation in galleries and at art sales show that women are less visible in the art scene,

Highlights of the discussion on why women are often not accorded recognition in the virtual arts circle, by the discussants included issues such as- culture being a key part in the imbalance of women representation, absent of mentorship for the younger and upcoming artists, lack of arts education via imbalance in the syllabus structure, lack of proper documentation of artists.

Others issues raised were: issue of corruption and politics in the industry; absent of creative niche by some female artists and above all the issue of gender and subordination. Reflecting on ways to improve the statusquo of women representation in arts generally,Alatise, whose works reflect a strong focus of the significant and power of womanhood, said the issue of women representation is most times tied to gender issue that cuts across global circle occasion by the culture they live in.

However, she advised women to push forward in their words. Her words, “Ability to push yourself is not a gender issue; ability is about yourself ; addressing it needs specific manner.” Giving tips on improvement, Alatise said Mentorship and education are few ways to address female representation in arts,” Mentorship is important for female artists to be themselves by learning from other female artists who had made name.”

On education, the Lagos based artist said, the educational system needs to be revamped to address the question of choice of study for secondary schools students who are most times too young to decide what line of study they want at the senior secondary level.

Collaborating Alatise suggestions, Laju Olayinwola, an art historian at the University of Lagos: and a member of the audience,  “Mentorship is very important and this drives us to the issue of documentation. It is so important that we know the history of arts, the challenges artists faced especially female ones who achieved feats in their time.” Olayinwola also advocated a support system for students after secondary school who wished to  make arts a career.

For Adegoke, the curator who agreed that gender is a global issue by the alarming revelation she gave of  people she worked with averagely in a month,95% are male ; said there should be a shift in the narratives of gender issue. Discussion of women artists should be on question of quality and creativity.,” Who tells the story? Because, who tells the story is very important. Female artists, she said need to understand  the roles and gamut of arts to improve on the quality of works they produce.

Nwabogu, in his submission, said, there is no peculiarity to women artists works and their representation, but advised that female artists should strive to be the best in what ever they do especially in areas of style, narrative and expressions. In his words,” The scalar lucky is that  an artist that expresses truth will be seen.

Among those who spoke on improving female higher recognition from the audience were Ufuoma Fafunwa who said, conformity, support and courage is all the female artists need to excel more in the industry. While, Layo Bright, a female artist, who spoke on the issue of education of young artists, said she got to know about canvass after her secondary school .

In her words, ‘My take is that there are so many young artists interested in the arts who do have a platform for expression. My question is ,’What are we doing to progress education in arts for everyone?


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