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Den Art – Mixed Exhibition: Glass Ceiling

Multiple key institutions across the world have taken active steps in the last decade to redress the gender imbalance in art collections: in 2009-10, Paris’s Centre Pompidou’s landmark Elles exhibition showcased over 130 works of art made by 75 women artists, yet after the show the female artists were largely relegated back to the basement storage area; and in 2020, the Baltimore Museum (USA) decided to target the artist’s gender gap by acquiring only works by women – an excellent model that sadly wasn’t adopted, as it was anticipated, by many other museums or galleries across the world. An alternative mode of gender-parity through exhibitions is one posed by the Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum – a separatist model which showcases only female artists – or those who deal with feminist issues. When we examine this year’s art-gender gap at Turkey’s leading art fair Contemporary Istanbul 2022, it is clear that although many galleries are taking steps to host women-only stands or apply gender-equal representation amongst their stable of artists – overall, only around a third (37%) of the artists being showcased are female.  Of course, this is a standard 3:1 male:female gender ratio that we see across the global artworld – but why are women artists expected to be happy with only a third of the slice of the pie?  And is enough being done to redress this figure to a more equal 50:50 gender balance in art representation? According to a recent survey on business and the arts in Turkey, 15% of the Turkish population perceive that too much is being done to assure that both binary genders have equal opportunities for success.  With women earning a third less than men, this suggests that a significant proportion of Turkish citizens would like to keep the glass ceiling in place, and indeed, keep women in their place. This clearly appears to be the case in the artworld as well, where women artists in Turkey are expected to be seen as inferior.

Similar to the Centre Pompidou, the Baltimore Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth Sackler Centre, Antalya’s prominent new gallery Den Art have adopted a separatist approach intended to showcase key women practitioners who are established in their field, or who have trajectories ahead to worthy validation. Showing work by only female-identifying artists at this exhibition allows Den Art to make their own contribution in redressing the balance that excludes women artists from the contemporary art/historical canon. This vibrant, and strong exhibition of mixed-media work reminds me of the famous question once asked to the late, great art historian Linda Nochlin and which was subsequently written up into her eponymous 1971 essay ‘Why have there been no great women artists?’.  Den Art’s show is evidence that there are outstanding women artists in Turkey – and it is our responsibility to ensure they have the same validation as our equally great (but not greater) male artists.  

Dr Helen Gørrill

Author of ‘Women Can’t Paint’ (2020/2021)

*Image 1: Gözde Mulla ‘İçeride bir yerde’ kağıt üzerine karakalem, pastel boya, 25x35cm, 2021

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