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ARTISTREE

Leading the Way: 3 Local Female Creatives on Women in the Arts

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Women have come a long way since the 19th century, when they were perceived as “the weaker sex” whose rightful place was in the home. Today, women are running companies and leading countries – how about in the arts? We speak to three female arts personalities in Hong Kong to get their views on the progress and challenges around gender parity, and how they envision a more equitable art world.  

Anna CY Chan on Performing Arts
Dean of the School of Dance at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and performer, producer and curator

“A women’s voice should be heard through the arts.”

“Women have an important voice. In training female artists of the future, the most important thing we want to impart is that they can influence society through their artistic talent. 

In everyday training, we might overlook our true identities in favour of technique, but we want them to all have a unique voice for themselves. Dancers are very resilient by nature. So our programme provides more training in areas such as industry understanding and knowledge; you need to understand your rights as a female performer/artist and how to protect yourself in this competitive industry. This has been even more in focus after the #metoo movement. 

In the performing arts, you’ll often see men in leadership roles: choreographers, producers, directors, curators. What’s keeping female artists from furthering into these roles is that when women are at different stages in their lives, they have to juggle multiple roles – as a mother, wife, artist. So maybe they need more support in other areas of life to focus on their career.  

I’m fortunate to have had many inspiring female role models throughout my life. My first ballet teacher, Jean Wong, taught me persistence for artistic excellence. Susan Street, my predecessor here at the Academy, showed me what an impact education can make on society. As women, we need to find mentorship in one another, too. And as the world becomes more receptive to individual voices, one of the key things to being a great female leader in the arts, I think, is to be someone who can always listen.”

Sharon Cheung on Fine Art
Columnist, author and artist who, after 20 years in journalism, enrolled to study fine art at RMIT University in Melbourne

“Gender doesn’t define us.”
“Gender doesn’t define us. But long ago, we had no choice.

For centuries, the art arena was dominated by men. Something stood out to me from art critic John Berger’s book, Ways of Seeing: that the only way women could get into the museum was by being naked. He was talking about the many nude portraits of women in art history, which were perceived through the male gaze, where the ‘ideal’ woman was sensual, beautiful and gentle. Even women judged themselves in the same manner, as it was the social norm back then. It seems unfair that women had no say in their own portrayal through art.

But things are changing. Since WWII, women have become more influential, taking up important positions. In the art world, we see many feminist artists emerging, and one of my favourites is the British painter Jenny Saville. In her works, women can be fat and not ‘sexy’; they are depicted as people, rather than sexual objects. I think artworks like hers empower women to view themselves differently. 

As my mum said, ‘There are two kinds of people: winners and losers. Not men and women.’ It shouldn’t matter whether you’re a woman or a man to fight for what you want. This is why I embrace challenges, like my latest project, that I dedicate to young females. Even though I’m still at the beginning of my journey as an art professional, I’ll be curating an exhibition for the first time this May. I hope that in me taking on this challenge will inspire young women to also chase their dreams, and to remind them that you can do anything if you believe in yourself.” 

Shin Wong on Curation
Independent Curator and Creative & Consultant of PMQ 
“Females in art should champion diversity and inclusion.”

“In the past, women mainly acted as supporters, helping male peers achieve successful careers while they cheered for them; women were seen as subjects, or some would even say, a ‘vase’. 
But art heroines such as Louise Bourgeois, Frida Kahlo, Barbara Hepworth, and Yayoi Kusama became significant critical and commercial successes, raising the profile of female artists around the world. This is important, as it improves the gender balance and equality in a male-dominated society. 

Female art curators like myself have to have quite different sentiments and subject interests; championing diversity and inclusion, and always pushing to give a platform for challenging art. 

While Hong Kong is already quite supportive of female talents, I do think women are still challenged by certain stereotypical mindsets, such as age and appearance. I would love to see more brave, young women in the arts industry, expressing their points of view and challenging what they feel should be changed. 

I don’t really think about gender when it comes to work. What’s most important to me is to be determined, believe in myself and produce work with class and flair. So I always keep in mind this quote by Coco Chanel: ‘In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.’”

What else is trending in the arts? Here are three trends that you should follow in 2021.

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