Precisely on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, on 25th November, the second session of the Doctorat Picasso focused on exploring the concealments and silences around women artists in current narrations of art history. It was a vindictive and very critical session with the androcentric vision that has dominated and still dominates artistic narratives. Since this construction, the creativity of women, historically considered incapable of creating great art, has been ignored, and the figure of the creative genius,always masculine, has been extolled, as is the case of Picasso himself. This issue was discussed in depth by the two speakers invited to the session: Art al Quadrat, the Valencian artistic group formed by the sisters Gema and Mònica del Rey, who did so based on the experience of their own artistic process, and Alba CeColl, an art historian and disseminator of artistic topics in the social media.
The two sisters who make up Art al Quadrat define themselves, and especially in this order of importance, as “artists, twins, women, mothers.” It is precisely a definition they adopted when they were mothers, almost at the same time, and because of the way they work and approach their artistic projects, leading them to say, “We are the antithesis of artistic genius such as Picasso.” In their works – video, photography, installation, performances, Art al Quadrat denounces the invisibility of women in areas such as contemporary art but also with a perspective on historical memory such as the project, Yo soy. Memoria de las rapadas (2018), which pays tribute to the women whose heads were shaved and were mocked as punishment by Franco’s repression, episodes that are not documented and that only last in the oral accounts of the victims and the witnesses who lived it. “We want to make it clear that violence against women is hidden because it happens in the family, in privacy or in public places, but there are no records of what happened,” the artists explain.
Since studying Fine Arts, Gema and Mònica del Rey together have always worked collectively, in a “four-handed” job, very different from the image of the genius working alone in his studio receiving inspiration: “The figure of the genius comes from a verticality, while we come from a way of working horizontally between us but also with museums, and galleries, etc. We totally agree with the phrase of the writer Eduardo Galeano when he says that charity is humiliating because it is exercised from above, while solidarity is horizontal because it implies mutual respect.” Art al Quadrat does not separate life and art, and with their works they also show the difficulty of so many women to reconcile work with parenthood which causes so many women to give up being mothers, or for so many women artists to interrupt or leave work when they are mothers.
For her part, Alba CeColl reviewed how art history narratives, written by white men from a Eurocentric perspective, were created from the 18th century onwards. “In this narrative, the figure of the genius is very important, an artist with an extraordinary ability, capable of absorbing from reality what is necessary to be able to turn it into art,” said Alba Cecoll. Women were denied all these abilities from all walks of life while the genius ended up being “a semi-divine being”, above all since art ceased to be at the service of religion and became a kind of religion in itself.
In this context, Picasso is a very clear example of this almost deification of the artist, which is reinforced by the fact that most of his literature is written by “people who admire him a lot”. “The storytelling about Picasso is not natural, but constructed, when Picasso is a good artist but not the only one experimenting with art in his day. In fact, most avant-garde movements, such as Cubism or Surrealism itself, emerged from groups of influential artists, and Picasso was also heavily influenced by his peers.” A very significant example is Picasso’s 1919 painting The Girl with a Hoop, which bears a striking resemblance to the work of the same title by María Blanchard, from 1916, a work that is curiously impossible to find on Google, unlike Picasso’s. On the other hand, “if it had been Blanchard who had painted the work after Picasso, it would have been said that she had been influenced by him.”
According to Alba CeColl, the idea of genius has been perpetuated during the 21st century also thanks to the art market, which needs the work of art to continue to be seen as an object of investment. Women artists continue to have a hard time getting into this system. “To change all these narratives, we must value the art of the women of the past and provide it with their own storytelling, regardless of the geniuses around them,” she explained. “We must also review the dynamics of the market and not treat women artists differently from men”.
In the final conversation of the session by the co-director of the Picasso Doctorate, Jèssica Jaques, introduced one of the key concepts to break all these dynamics which is sorority, which is clearly opposed to the traditional idea of genius. “It’s an act of sorority to rescue women artists who are silenced because they deserve their place in art history,” said Alba CeColl. Art al Quadrat admitted that this is a key word in recognising that there is a historical gap in the visibility of women artists and women in general.
Picasso Doctorate: «Gender, artistic creation and conflict with an androcentric vision»
You can see the session here >