There are a lot more male curators in Northern Ireland than women and this can influence programming decisions in galleries in weird ways and, as a result, women’s careers.
There was once a 150 year review exhibition of the Art College in the Ormeau Baths Gallery that only had one women selected to show, and that piece of work was a embroidery.
Although the traditional way for women to be in exhibitions or on the walls of museums was to be painted naked, in that review even the life drawing was of a man.
There are some great women artists around at all stages of their careers, probably the name that comes to people's mind the most when you ask them to repeat a name locally is Rita Duffy — from her ‘soft border’ made up of stuffed toys along the Blacklion–Belcoo bridge to paintings of all aspects of local life.
Ursula Burke is one excellent woman artist who has progressed by leaps and bounds in recent years. QSS artists' studios in 2020 exhibited four emerging female artists: Alana Barton, Amy Higgins, Rachel Lawell and Sonia Wynn.
The Freelands Foundation 2020 research report of women artists in Britain found that "though female art and design graduates outnumber men, men outnumber women in the majority of activities that signify the development of an artist’s career, such as having a solo exhibition at a national museum or at a large-scale gallery outside of London."
Indeed, in major career highlights, such as representing at the Venice Biennale, men substantially outnumber women. The representation of female artists has increased over the years, and fairly significantly since the ELF audit in 2012-13. However, the data suggests that gender imbalances persist at, and beyond, the mid-career stage.
I would be surprised if anything different was found to be the case locally.
Challenging this gender disparity is Second Collective Belfast set up by Cathy Scullion and Sinéad O’Neill-Nicholl. Their mission states: "Second Collective is an organisation dedicated to supporting mature female artists by providing paid exhibition opportunities for fine artists, offering practical and mentoring support to these artists and by promoting learning opportunities and skill sharing opportunities for women in the fine art sector and beyond."
Their next exhibition and artist talk will be by Belfast-based Polish artist Marta Dyczkowska and will be held during the Imagine Belfast festival of ideas and politics.
I really enjoy Dr Aisling O Beirn’s work. Her exhibition and accompanying book Dispersed Presence on the material culture of the Maze-Long Kesh held in Pssquared in 2018 deserves a more permanent home.
Her precariously balanced sculptures seem to be held together with air and magic.
And the winners of the @ArtsCouncilNI's MIA awards are composer Piers Hellawell, playwright @ReassembledSA, visual artist @maclofski and performance artist Sinead O’Donnell. Congratulations to all! pic.twitter.com/dIO46IyRwz— The Arts Show (@bbcartsshow) November 14, 2017
Performance artist Sinead O'Donnell's North Belfast with the North of Thailand work has been performing in Alexandra Park with livestream Zoom tours to her Thai artists and ‘Closer distancing’ in fresh air. A comment perhaps on our weird enforced social distancing in all areas of life. Sinead’s linkages continue next week with the title ‘love’, so if you are in the park watch out for her.
As in all aspects of women’s lives, opportunities have changed over the centuries. Less common now is the experience of Camille Claude with Rodin the famous French sculptor. As his muse and an artist herself, it turns out she actually made lots of art that was originally attributed to him.
No matter at what stage of a career any women artists is at or at what level, you can be sure that women will continue to create, recognition, support or no.
I Hope you mark International Women's Day and continue to support the women in your sphere of influence. Finally, if you're hungry for some international art connections, the artist studio museum network have a really amazing resource of digital resources from podcasts, virtual tours, online workshops, exhibitions and interesting connections with the wider world of art.