Women Artists’ Art Week London

Gender inequality is well publicised and often fills our twitter feeds on a daily basis, be it the lack of women CEO’s at FTSE 100 companies, unequal pay across professional sport or even the fast that male musicians vastly out number their female counterparts when it comes to headlining festivals. 

But inequality in the art world has gone under the radar. Ask anyone on the street, even though they may not be surprised, they certainly won’t be aware that only 13.7% of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are women, or that only 2% of the $196.6 billion spent on art auctions between 2008 and 2019 was work made by women.

Aiming to shine a spotlight on this problem is Women Artists’ Art Week London (WAAW London). Set up by Artist and mother Annya Sand with Art Patron Catherine Hunt and launched on International Womens’ Day 2022. WAAW London’s mission is to open up commercial art galleries and non-commercial art institutions to showcase only female artists annually on June 8-15.

Following WAAW London’s launch this summer we sat down with Co-Founder Annya Sand. A successful contemporary multimedia artist in her own right, she currently has her signature abstract art hanging at the Houses of Parliament in London and the UN headquarters in New York. Having had to carve her way through a male dominated industry with the recent added challenge of motherhood, Annya explains the idea behind Women Artists’ Art Week London, the reasons for less female led art exhibitions and where she hopes the industry will be in 20 years time.


Explain WAAW why was set up and the problems in the art industry it is looking to solve? 

Female artists in London, as well as across the globe, face a wide range of challenges and complexities. First and foremost, these are how to launch a career and then achieve financial self-sufficiency despite gender restrictions. Women Artist Art Week in London initiative, abbreviated as “WAAW London” is here to nudge the London art scene to be more welcoming towards and inclusive of female artists. 

WAAW London is open to all galleries that wish to participate and that are willing exclusively to showcase female artists during the course of that one week each year. 

The goal of the WAAW London is, first of all, to raise awareness about the lack of representation for female artists in the London art scene. Secondly, to encourage commercial and cultural art organisations to engage more with female artists in order to create an environment that appreciates and fosters women’s role in the art world. 


What was the point in your career when you noticed the barriers preventing women pursuing art as a realistic career? 

I always felt a bit like a “sex object” in the male dominated art industry. I tried to dress oddly to fit in as an artists, I created a lot of architectural paintings to prove that I can actually draw etc. As upsetting as it was it was still all manageable until I had a child to raise and care for. Financial self-sufficiency is highly relevant for women artists, especially those with children. I was faced with additional costs and, therefore, could no longer work for free and as a result lost out on a lot of opportunities. That has led me to mental struggles that many creative people come up against when having to consider their work in the context of children and family, and trying to find a balance between the two.


In the music industry festival headliners tend to be more male, now this could be down organisers feeling this leads to better tickets sales or maybe they feel there less popular female musicians to choose from. With the art industry what are the biggest reasons for less female led art exhibitions, is this down to the curators, the art buyer or are there just less female artists out there? 

I think it is down to the entire art industry. There is a great contrast between the expectations of the industry and its reality. The art industry is not created with women mothers in mind, but it needs to change in in order to progress. Even when a woman has a career in the art world, it is clear that it remains an unequal working environment. According to a report commissioned by Arts Council England, female leaders across the arts world point to, ‘a lack of permanent funded jobs, lack of line management support, caring responsibilities and poor job opportunities’ as some of the reasons why their progress is hindered. Whilst in 2019 74% of A Level Art & Design students were female, only 35% of artists represented by commercial galleries were women; in the auction houses, only 3% of the top highest-grossing sales were works by female artists. It is clear that the career pathway of the comparatively smaller proportion of men in the visual arts sector attracts significantly more opportunities and financial support. According to National Museum of Women in the Arts (based in the USA) women represent 70% of BA degrees in Fine Arts and 65-75% of MFAs through only 46% of working artists (across all arts disciplines) are women. Women continue to be excluded from the mainstream commercial art market despite their best efforts to participate. These grim statistics make it all the more important to search out and support exhibitions featuring work by female artists, past and present.


Throughout June of this year WAAW has run a series of exhibitions shining the spot light on certain female artists, who did you choose and how do they represent what WAAW is trying to achieve? 

WAAW London’s is not involved in a curating process of choosing which female artist the gallery must show. Our aim is to encourage all the galleries to showcase female artists only through the week 8-15th of June annually and by doing so create an impact of seeing works created by female artists shown all over London at the same time. WAAW London is open to all galleries that wish to participate and that are willing exclusively to showcase female artists during the course of that one week each year. 


Looking ahead 20 years, how would you hope WAAW has helped make change in the art industry? 

In 20 years I hope that my god daughter will be able go to an art school and have a full career afterwards and if she chooses to have children she can be supported by the industry to do so and still have a great career in arts.


Three of the most-visited museums in the world, the British Museum, the Louvre), and The Metropolitan Museum of Art have never had female directors. What is needed on the grass route level to change this over the coming years? 

There are plenty of amazing and talented female candidates for those roles. I think that gender, first name or race should not be an option in an application process in order to create a fair chance to have the best candidate win the job. 


WAAW is looking to expand into Europe, America, Middle East, Africa. What do you hope to achieve there in the next few years? 

We are hoping to do the same as what we are doing in London, to encourage all the galleries to showcase female artists only through the week 8-15th of June annually, so that it becomes more of a norm to see female artists shown all over the world at the same time.


Which female artists have most led the way in equality in the art industry? 

Starting with Artemisia Gentileschi and Hildegard of Bingen, Camille Claudel, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Judy Chicago, Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama to Perle Fine all these women had a great impact on the art world. Also most recent ones like Guerilla Girls, Sarah Williamson and many more whose names we might not even know. 


For the latest on Women Artists’ Art Week London head to www.waawlondon.com or follow via @waawlondon.

For more info on Co-Founder Annya visit www.annyasandart.com.

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