13 Contemporary Female Artists You Should Know

Sure, you like art and you like going to art museums. But, how much do you really know about the female game-changers in the art world? This article highlights newly emerging, mid-career, and established female artists from across the globe and different mediums, preparing you to confidently stroll into an art gallery opening with talking points.

Lalla Essaydi

Graceful Islamic calligraphy is combined with depictions of the female form as Morocco-born artist Lalla Essaydi tests stereotypes and boundaries through her art. In her photography, the background and the central female figure(s) morph together creating an otherworldly glimpse into the beauty and mystery surrounding the subjects. Essaydi, working in many mediums such as photography, installation, painting, film, and video, uses her personal experience of living in Morocco as a girl to represent the current Arab female identity.

Rineke Dijkstra

Portraiture is reinvented and made relevant for the modern audience in Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra’s photographs. Just like an individual would go to a studio to have their portrait painted, Dijkstra uses the camera as the updated medium to capture the image and essence of a person. She creates her works in series, each photograph complementing each other on a singular theme, and her subjects are mainly adolescents. Dijkstra has traced a number of individuals regularly, such as in her Almerisa and Oliver series. These series allow the viewer to follow the photographed individual through a number of months and/ or years allowing for the documentation of time passing and the changing individual.

Yayoi Kusama

Polka dots are Yayoi Kusama’s iconic style. This Japanese avante-garde artist has been on the art scene for over 50 years creating painting, sculpture, and installations using predominantly polka dots. Kusami’s oeuvre also includes fashion and writing. Beginning in the 1960’s, she has participated in body painting festivals, staged performances (most infamously the “Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead at MoMA), collaborated with luxury handbag brand Louis Vuitton, and written many novels in English. Track down her work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Mattress Factory (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States), and the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Inhotim Institute of Contemporary Art and Botanical Gardens, etc.

Female Artists
Image credit: panda073, Creative Commons

Sharon Lockhart

Los Angeles based artist, Sharon Lockhart, captures individuality and the everyday-ness of the subjects in her photographs and films. Her latest work focused on Noa Eskhol, an Israeli textile artist dance composer. Lockhart used film to document Eskol’s past students during a choreographed dance. From later years, her Lunch Break series showcased the leisure time of employees from a naval shipbuilding plant. She highlights their activities and as the name of the series suggests, lunches that were brought from home.

Chloe Dewe Mathews

English photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews’ style has been described as “documentary-landscape”.  Her photos document the present status of places where incredible and interesting events and history have occurred. There is a richness to the specific location of her shots, whether in cultural tradition, history, or folklore. Her most recent project, Caspain, has taken her all the way to the Causcaus region by backpacking, hitchhiking, and camping, in Azerbejian, to document the use of naftalan, an oil believed to cure any ailment, in wellness centers in the city of Naftalan.

Alexa Meade

The stretched fibered canvas sold at art supply stores is not the preferred painting surface for American artist Alexa Meade. The human body is what Meade prefers. Morphing and confusing the human eye as to what is living and what is a painting she creates an appearance of two-dimensionality onto three-dimensional living bodies, following each temporal painting with a photograph. Her art has been shown in Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, New York, and Los Angeles.

Image credit: Zengame, Creative Commons

Mariko Mori

Working in video and photography, Japanese artist Mariko Mori, focuses on the unanswerable universal questions of reality, death, life, the past, and the cosmos. Mori uses modern technology to address these questions and themes she is fascinated with. One cannot passively look at Mori’s art, it requires active engagement.

Toyin Odutola

Using primarily pen ink, marker, and India ink, Nigerian-born Toyin Odutola, creates beautiful drawings focusing on themes of the representation of blackness and race. Odutola creates captivating portraiture while tackling issues of identity and representation, each work  including well-thought out titles. Lately, artist has ventured into using charcoal, watercolor, pastel, acrylic ink which allow her to create more texture and dimension.

Nathalie Miebach

Science and art commingle in the basket weaved sculptures created by Nathalie Miebach. Using scientific data from the fields of research in meteorology, astronomy, and ecology, Miebach uses data from experiments to create artwork representing her understanding of that information, in turn, veering it into a sculptural artwork.  A truly unique visual experience is created as you look at recorded data of nature transformed from line, bar, and column graphs into a three-dimensional tactical and colorful re-representation.

Image credit: See-ming Lee, Creative Commons

Maria Hassabi

Performance artist Maria Hassabi explores the relationship between art and artist, artist and audience. She is described as choreographing unhurried, undisturbed, and still movement.  Her most current work PLASTIC tackles the relationship of the space of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the varying (and questionable) ways of displaying artwork. Using movement and the body, Hassabi is able to address museological and medium-specific ideas and issues.

Adriana Varejão

Brazilian art history is a constant referent for Brazilian artist Adriana Varejao. Working in many mediums including painting, drawing, photographs, and mixed media, and murals Varejao is notably known for incorporating azulejo – Portuguese blue painted tiles, brought to Brazil during the colonial times – into her work. Celacanto Provoca Maremoto in the Inhotim Institute of Contemporary Art and Botanical Garden in Minas Gerais, Brazil is a notable mural of Varejao incorporating the azulejo, in turn adding commentary to the colonial times of her country’s history.

Kara Walker

Silhouettes are plastered all over the walls of any given gallery space exhibiting Kara Walker’s artwork. These white on black (white walled, black silhouettes) contours highlight themes of gender, sexuality, and race. She is considered a leading African-American artist because of her portrayal of race using the Victorian artistic technique of silhouettes.

Shirin Neshat

A pitch black background starkly contrasts with the lighter flesh tones of the face of each portrait photograph Shirin Neshat has shot in The Book of Kings series.  The creases and wrinkles of the skin, the sadness or joyfulness of the eyes cannot escape Neshat’s lens. The struggles, obstacles, and happiness of each sitter are illuminatingly present and intimate in her shots. Her other photography series capture the same vulnerability of the viewer as in this series. Neshat, born in Iran, living in the United States in exile, focuses on the human body, displacement (much like her experience), and Islam with photography and video.

Image credit: r2hox, Creative Commons

Feature image: Andrew Russeth, Creative Commons

Anahit Poturyan is a recent graduate from UCLA. She spends her time planning perfect weekend getaways near Los Angeles while writing about past travels and working at an art museum.