Happy birthday to Georgia O’Keeffe, whose veiled paintings of female genitalia have dominated her artistic legacy. “O’Keeffe has been very much reduced to one particular body of work, which tends to be read in one particular way,” said Tate Modern’s Achim Borchardt-Hume in regards to an upcoming retrospective of O’Keeffe’s work.
“Many of the white male artists across the 20th century have the privilege of being read on multiple levels, while others — be they women or artists from other parts of the world — tend to be reduced to one conservative reading. It’s high time that galleries and museums challenge this.” O’Keeffe also objected to these vaginal interpretations of her paintings.
For a moment, we’re taking men out of the conversation with a visual appreciation for women who make art about other women. “I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore,” O’Keeffe once wrote to arts patron Mabel Dodge Luhan. Here are ten artist who do so most faithfully.
Julia Margaret Cameron
Mnemosyne (Marie Spartali), 1868
The Rosebud Garden of Girls, 1868
“I longed to arrest all beauty that came before me, and at length the longing has been satisfied.”
Le bout du monde, 1949
Le couronnement de la bienheureuse feline, 1974
“I always imagined I would have a life very different from the one that was imagined for me, but I understood from a very early time that I would have to revolt in order to make that life. Now I am convinced that in any creativity there exists this element of revolt.”
Untitled, Rome, 1977–1978
“Am I in the picture? Am I getting in or out of it? I could be a ghost, an animal or a dead body, not just this girl standing on the corner…?”
“Though some will try to deny it, I believe that every woman, at some time in her life, has had or will have the desire to pose nude.”
I Put a Spell on You, 2005.
“The black female body has been violated and revered in very specific ways by the outsider—Europeans, especially. The issues that pertain to race: pathologizing the black mind, exoticizing and fearing of the black body, objectifying the body as a specimen, or a sexual machine, or a work animal, or relating the black body to non-human species as a way to justify cruelty… All these are practices that are placed excessively upon the black female body. My personal belief is that deep inside all humans know that our ancestors were black Africans. The connection to Africa is obvious, even if it is an instinctual, intuitive awareness.”
Self Portrait/Nursing, 2004
Angela (head), 1992
“There’s a lesbian aesthetic, just as there’s gay camp, but I don’t know if there’s such a thing as ‘lesbian art.'”
“I only represent subjects I entirely identify with. Women in a bare state, in a semi-abused, violated condition, yet reminiscent of beauty and beautiful things.”
“I call my female figures ‘urban goddesses’ because I don’t want women to be worshipped for their fertility. I want them to open up and be unashamed of being sexual. There have been some horrific rape cases in India recently, and what shocks me is not just the ferocity of the crime but the mindset, and it will take great leaps in education and a revolution where men should really take the lead for things to change.”
Untitled Film-Still 21, 1978
Untitled Film Still 10, 1978
“People think because it’s photography it’s not worth as much, and because it’s a woman artist, you’re still not getting as much — there’s still definitely that happening. I’m still really competitive when it comes to, I guess, the male painters and male artists. I still think that’s really unfair.”
“Men and women are different. A man’s power is throughout his body, but a woman has her power in her uterus, so I think a women’s body is centred in the uterus. In a way, she is actually showing off, just like the flowers in the picture are showing off their sexual parts. . . . I don’t have any message. I just want to tell how it feels to be a woman. Because I’m a woman and I don’t have a man’s body, I can only paint a woman’s feeling.”