All-Female Exhibit Challenges Male-Dominated Art World

“An art show with men in it is just an art show.”
One group exhibit features the artwork with first names like Frank, Rusty, Reuben, and Virgil. Another, pieces by Vernita, Elle, Sofie, and Nikki. So what’s the difference? A year-long series of solo shows at the Long-Sharp Gallery’s New York Project Space sprang from that question. The series concludes in Indianapolis with Athena Shrugged, Remix, running November 10 through December 30. The seven-woman exhibition includes all four artists who showed in New York—Constance Edwards Scopeletis, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, Sabina Klein, and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Hoosier artists Anila Quayyum Agha, Cagney King, Amy Kirchner, and Mary Pat Wallen have also been added to the mix.

On November 11, the gallery will host a companion panel discussion with the artists on women in the arts. Shannon Linker, vice president of the Arts Council of Indianapolis, will moderate. At its heart, the series asks if the art world is equitable. The discussion will start broadly and narrow to the artists’ personal experiences as women in the arts in an attempt to answer. The early indicators aren’t great.

During the panel’s planning stages, some of the artists, who range in age from about 30 to 75 and are at various stages of their careers, mentioned that they normally wouldn’t do an all-female exhibition. There’s too much risk that it could make a regular show into one about gender.

Linker says if she marketed a show she curated at Gallery 924 as all-male, it would be confusing. People would ask, What does that mean? “An art show with men in it is just an art show,” she says. “That got me thinking—clearly, we’re not really there.”

Gallery owner Rhonda Long-Sharp began working on the series after revisiting an essay written by the art historian Linda Nochlin called “Why Have There Been No Great Female Artists?” The writer asserted in 1971 that there have been, but they haven’t received the same support that male artists have. Statistics suggest Nochlin’s observation still applies.

More than half of the MFAs awarded in the United States are earned by women, but only a third of artists represented by commercial galleries are women. Five women were among the top 100 artists for auction value between 2011 and 2016. Artworks by women comprise, at most, 5 percent of the major permanent collections in the United States and Europe. It goes on.

“It’s impossible for me to express the respect for these women I have as individuals and as a group,” says Long-Sharp. “It’s equally impossible for me to express the frustration I feel as a gallery owner at the statistics I see.”

For ages, even if a woman got a piece into a museum, she says, it was labeled anonymous.

That, at least, has changed.


Athena Shrugged, Remix runs November 10 through December 30 at Long-Sharp Gallery (1 N. Illinois St.). The panel discussion with the artists on women in the arts will be held November 11 at 10:30 a.m. in the same venue.