Painters Cristina BanBan (b. Barcelona, 1987) and Samira Addo (b. London 1992) have both enjoyed great success at a relatively early stage in their careers. Both artists focus on the body; Addo, is a portrait-artist who uses her work to evoke emotions and the subtleties of facial expressions whereas BanBan’s work comprises large and colourful figures that tell stories about our contemporary lives.
In an industry where men are often more highly regarded than women, BanBan and Addo have already achieved the international recognition that many artists fail to attain within their lifetime. Addo has just won the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year (2018), going on to paint Kim Cattrall for Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, while BanBan was recently awarded the Arts Club Prize during the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. With glittering futures almost certain for both artists, I sat down with Addo and BanBan to talk about being a young woman artist right now.
Gallery Girl: How do you think women artists are thought of in 2018 in comparison to 1990? What do you think is different from being an ’emerging’ woman artist now compared to twenty years ago?
Cristina BanBan: 20 years ago I was 10 so probably I can’t give you a very accurate answer to this.
Samira Addo: It’s difficult to know exactly how women artists are thought of now in comparison to in the 1990’s as I am just entering the art world. However, from speaking to fellow female artists I definitely get the sense it is becoming easier to be an ’emerging’ woman artist – although still with difficulties.
GG: Do you personally think enough female artists are exhibited in galleries and at art fairs? What do you think about the majority of the most expensive art works in the world being by male artists?
CB: We all grew up studying and getting to know male artists, not because there were not women artists, but because they never were recognised, they were written out of our books. We were fed with a history centred in a Western-male-view and the achievements of others were vanished, and I think the art market is still conditioned by this gender imbalance.
SA: From my own experience I feel exhibited artists have been overwhelmingly male. It is quite worrying that the majority of the most expensive art works are by male artists. It could potentially be a coincidence but in the likelihood it isn’t I feel it is a very unfair circumstance that is reflected across the art world, where the artist themselves carry more weight than their artwork.
CB: I would like to believe in the idea that things are changing at the moment, and that women are rising to top positions and getting recognition for their work in the contemporary art world, though there is still a big gap in the percentage of women included in the most influential art institutions and collections.
GG: How do people receive you online/over the phone compared to in person? (I ask this because I was once told that I was ‘too young and pretty’ to be a curator).
CB: I have never encountered any substantial difference when talking to people within these two realities.
SA: From my personal experience I can’t think of a circumstance where I was received differently.
GG: Have you been influenced by ‘feminist’ artists such as Linder Sterling, Tracey Emin etc.
CB: Thanks to them we are all in this path as women artists, clearly two examples of strong women with devotion for their work and constant effort to change people’s perspective of things.
I admire them but I won’t say my work is directly influenced by them. In some sense my paintings would be closer to Tracey Emin for her use of personal histories as a focus in the art making.
SA: I feel empowered and encouraged by the works of ‘feminist’ artists. My work is largely influenced by my own experiences and what’s close to me (which may be female oriented anyway)
GG: Do you see yourself as a feminist artist?
SA: I am a feminist but I don’t see myself as a feminist artist. My work isn’t strictly guided by feminism as I tend to be driven by a whole range of topics and even just by the urge to experiment and create independent of an underlying theme.
CB: Nowadays everybody likes tagging people and identifying themselves with different categories. I am an artist and I am fighting for success in my career. It happens that I am a woman and I am interested in depicting female bodies, talking about personal and collective stories and relationships in between and around women. There are also men in my paintings of course but not that often.
GG: Do you think there is a danger of viewing all art made by women artists under a gendered lens?
CB: There is always a risk when generalizing. Artists should have the right to position themselves with any ideology or politics and to feel free to reflect those ideas or omit them in their work.
SA: Viewing all art made by women artists under a gendered lens is a real danger, although in certain circumstances the gender of the artist may be essential to how the artist wants their work to be received.
GG: What do you think the future holds for young female artists?
CB: I will say the future holds positivity. Things are very different than years ago and mentalities are changing, I would say people are more educated now and better able to understand equality if you compare to older generations.
SA: I feel the more women in art is talked about, the more it will trickle into the younger generations and challenge how they even start off perceiving art. So as long as this conversation continues I believe the future is bright
GG: Is there any advice that you would give to young women trying to make it in the art world?
SA: I can only advise to be persistent and not to let the opinions/perception of others guide you in what you think you can do.
CB: Believe in yourself.