by Cassandra Lamberti
Photo by Arlette Bashizi

When you open a book, inside there are words brimming with knowledge, history or a visionary tale that may bring you into a world you would never have thought of otherwise. When you go to a museum, there are paintings, sculptures and photographs crafted by individuals. These pieces of art are the remnants of their authors, and they were created to last for you. Seeing or reading something new gears the mind to think up novel ideas. This then generates something wholly contrasting, and here begins the cycle of creation. 

Time after time, people have been expressing their thoughts and depicting their lives using various media. Through painting, photography or poetry, humans have always had a way to communicate their “now”. Without documentation, some historic moments could only exist in our imagination.

How could we truly grasp what life was like in the past or what the struggles and celebrations that occurred felt like without others conveying their impressions in some form? Passing along stories and sharing experiences help to bridge the gap between past, present and future. Talking about personal experiences helps to shape a more prosperous tomorrow.

“The unexamined life is not worth living, as the aphorism goes, but perhaps an honorable and informed life requires examining others’ lives, not just one’s own. Perhaps we do not know ourselves unless we know others. And if we do, we know that nobody is nobody.” –
Rebecca Solnit

However, it is important to note that while presently everyone is able to create and share, women throughout history have notoriously been mistreated in the art realm. The vast majority of the world’s most renowned artists are men. This is not due to women not possessing the skills but rather because society made it almost impossible for women to focus on anything other than their domestic duties. Women’s options were quite limited. Art schools began allowing females to enrol only in the late 1800s, and even then it was too expensive or still had a taboo attached to it. If a woman was allowed to create, there was little to no flexibility over what she was creating. 

During the Renaissance, women were not allowed to experiment with different styles and techniques as freely as men could. Instead, they were restricted to constructing scenes that would be left out of publications and not seen by much of the public. Another disadvantage women were facing was that they were not allowed to paint nude models, which just about eliminated the idea of painting realism. But placing women at a disadvantage doesn’t mean they quit. 

Just because women’s art was not seen does not mean it did not exist. At the outset of the 20th century, modern female groups began popping up more than ever before. Groups such as Where We At, Women’s Caucus for Art and Guerrilla Girls were all created to showcase art crafted by women and to make sure history did not paint over them this time around.

Where We At and Women’s Caucus for Art both focus on featuring the art of individual women and their stories. The Guerrilla Girls is similar in that it is a group of female artists as well; what distinguishes it from the other two collectives, however, is that its members remain unknown, as they wear gorilla masks. These feminist activist artists provide the public with art that exposes gender and ethnic biases present in the world while keeping the focus on their statement rather than their faces. 

The 20th century also introduced the digital age. This allowed a boom of easy-to-reach technology. In the 1970s, personal computers became more popular, information was becoming more free and rapid. Fast-forward to 2020 and computers can now comfortably fit in your pocket. With advancements in technology comes the growth of how we are able to relay our stories. Activists and artists are now able to create web pages aiming at bringing together people from around the world. Gaining insights into other artists’ perspectives and lives by viewing their photography and documentaries helps when creating new art.

Blogging has also taken over industries as the more personable outlet, reaching new audiences. A blog is a regularly updated website written in an informal or conversational style. Blogs have become a space for raw opinions and amiable conversations. In some cases, people prefer to get their information by reading a blog or listening to a podcast rather than by watching mainstream media, as they feel the latter lacks a strong point of view.

“We are in a privileged and sometimes happy position. We see a great deal of the world. Our obligation is to pass it on to others.” –
Margaret Bourke-White, the first American female war journalist and first foreign photographer permitted to photograph Soviet industry

femLENS provides women around the world with an opportunity for self-expression through visual storytelling. This builds a strong and open community, allowing women to heal and grow through their own self-reflection. But where there is an artist that invents, there is also an observer about to grow. Sharing images or written accounts allows room for personal opinions to sprout and conversations to manifest. Allowing oneself to be vulnerable provides space for someone else to relate and connect.

As important as it is to identify with others akin to us, it is just as important to educate ourselves on stories and lives different from our own. One might wonder, why should we care about women’s stories? After acknowledging how far women have come in society, and specifically in the art world, becoming aware of circumstances occurring outside of our normal gives rise to empathy and perhaps even pride.

Just as museums exhibit works of art for you to view, so too women share their stories for you to discover their meaning. When you don’t hear about something, you tend to think it is not happening or doesn’t really exist. When you don’t see something, you can’t put together the truth behind it. It is important to document women’s stories not only to encourage awareness of them but also to sustain and preserve them, preventing history from drowning out women’s voices once again.