Photo Essays

25 Years of Photographing Women Artists

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Barbara Yoshida, “Lynda Benglis, 21 November 1991” (all images courtesy Barbara Yoshida)

Few artists have been photographed as much as Pablo Picasso, whose image is nearly as ubiquitous as his paintings. Who can’t conjure up a glamorous visual of the Spaniard sporting Breton Stripes? Now try that with Hannah Höch, Picasso’s contemporary. Nothing? Nope, me neither.

The fact that female artists have enjoyed significantly less limelight than their male counterparts is part of what makes the images in 100 Portraits: Women Artists at LIU Brooklyn’s Salena Art Gallery so satisfying. The exhibition features medium-format, black-and-white photographs by Barbara Yoshida of both famous artists and lesser-known ones — from American sculptor Louise Bourgeois to African textile designer Malado Camara Sidibeh. The women appear in their homes and studios, illuminated by soft, natural light and surrounded by their work.

While it might irk some to see an exhibition featuring solely women artists — as if the “woman” part were the most important aspect of their practice — it’s helpful to remember the spirit in which the portraits were created. Yoshida began the series in the early 1990s, when the Guerrilla Girls were exposing art world sexism. Female artists were still struggling for recognition within galleries and museums, and in the public imagination. Many of the women Yoshida documented were fellow members of the Women’s Action Coalition, the organization that famously protested the exclusion of female artists from exhibitions at museums like the Guggenheim Soho.

Given that Yoshida herself worked as a painter, printmaker, and sculptor for two decades before ever picking up a camera, her photographs of these women are not just acts of affirmation but also of solidarity. That comes out in the way she chose to photograph her subjects — not posing them stiffly, but letting the images evolve over conversations about art and life. Each resulting portrait is not merely a representation of the artist shown, but an encounter between two women leaning on and encouraging one another in a male-dominated world.

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Barbara Yoshida, “Louise Bourgeois, 28 February 1992” (image courtesy the Easton Foundation/licensed by VAGA, NY)
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Barbara Yoshida, “Alicja Żebrowska, May 24, 2010”
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Barbara Yoshida, “Toshiko Takaezu, October 17, 1993”
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Barbara Yoshida, “Hannah Wilke, February 21, 1991”
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Barbara Yoshida, “Malado Camara Sidibeh, November 22, 2010”
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Barbara Yoshida, “Shona-Hah (Cherokee for Gray Dove), November 1, 1992”
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Barbara Yoshida, “Elizabeth Murray, April 29, 1992”
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Barbara Yoshida, “Deborah Kass, October 24, 1991”
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Barbara Yoshida, “Kim Dingle, August 25, 1994”
Judy Chicago, July 6, 2012
Barbara Yoshida, “Judy Chicago, July 6, 2012”
Veronica Ryan, November 8, 1991
Barbara Yoshida, “Veronica Ryan, November 8, 1991”

Barbara Yoshida’s 100 Portraits: Women Artists continues at Salena Art Gallery, LIU Brooklyn (Library Learning Center, ground floor, 1 University Plaza, Downtown Brooklyn) through March 27.

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