BUENOS AIRES — In November 2017, a group of around 100 women arts workers in Argentina launched the country’s first-ever organized effort to achieve gender parity in their sexism-plagued industry. Calling themselves Nosotras Proponemos (nP), meaning “we propose,” the group published a manifesto-like list of 37 demands, asking that women receive equal representation in exhibitions, collections, and leadership positions in Argentina’s arts sector.
One year later, nP is celebrating the significant changes their activism has made in Argentina’s art world.
“I did not expect that we would be able to achieve what we achieved,” says artist Cristina Schiavi, one of nP’s participants. “[But] yes, there is still lots to do, to go beyond the current trend of feminism and affect change for the long term.”
After collecting 3,000 signatures in support of their 37 demands a few weeks later, nP came together to discuss how they could put their womanpower into action. Through a series of protests, exhibitions, debates and other grassroots actions, they sought to remedy some stark gender disparities. (Of 47 major exhibits at the National Museum of Fine Arts in the last five years, for example, only two starred female artists.) On International Women’s Day in March, and during Argentina’s massive pro-choice demonstrations in June and August, nP joined other feminist organizations in flooding the streets with their political graphic art.
At the same time, the women brought their cause to some prominent members of Argentina’s art establishment. In July 2018, when nP learned that the guidelines for Argentina’s most important art prize, the National Salon, were being revised, they wrote a letter to the Minister of Culture suggesting that he use this opportunity to include gender parity in the new guidelines. Between 1911 and 2017, only five women have won the National Salon’s grand prize in painting, as opposed to 92 men. The Minister invited nP to the Ministry of Culture and promised to include the suggestion for more equality, even though “[the decisions] would be up to the jury, in the end.” Balancing skepticism and hope, many female artists in Argentina submitted their work to the National Salon.
On November 8th, the National Salon awarded its grand prizes, consisting of a pension, to four men and four women, who were honored for their contributions to Argentine culture at large. Out of the total number of awards, organized by discipline, 18 women won, as opposed to 14 male artists. A first.
On November 10th, during Buenos Aires’ Museum Night, nP launched another action, called “Rescuing Other Narratives.” The activists had approached public museums in the city, asking museum staff to “rescue” work by a “forgotten” female artist from their collections and showcase it during the popular event. Following the light-out in March — in which nP convinced museums throughout the country to dim the spotlights on artworks made by men, shrouding the majority of gallery walls in darkness and demonstrating unequal gender representation — this new initiative aims to highlight little-known works by women that are hidden in museums’ vaults.
At the National Museum of Fine Arts, a delegation from nP worked with the museum’s artistic director and chose to showcase work by painter Juana Lumerman (1905-1982). Artist Marcela Astorga, who was part of nP’s delegation, admits that she had not heard of Lumerman before. “But neither had the artistic director,” she adds, “and that is exactly what the [‘Rescuing Other Narratives’] action is about: for museums to put more effort into searching, encountering and presenting these other narratives that are not part of the dominant one, that we see time and time again.”
Lumerman, as well as Ana Maria Moncalvo (1921-2009), who were showcased at the Sivori Museum, and Mara Facchin (1962-2018), showcased at the city’s Museum of Modern Art, had their moments of fame in the 1940s, 1950s, and 2000s, respectively, “but [their success] was momentary and has been forgotten since,” explains Astorga.
The National Museum and the Sivori embraced nP’s action so enthusiastically that they promised to continue “rescuing other narratives” and showcasing forgotten work by women throughout the entirety of 2019. The Museum of Modern Art has not made the same gesture yet, “but we continue talking,” says Schiavi. “In the end, it is a process we are going through with the institutes, which have a responsibility to legitimize art and its stories.”
While nP acknowledges that much work remains to be done, the commitment of two public museums is an important step towards including narratives of women artists who have been hidden for too long.