Huda Shaarawi (1879-1947) was an Egyptian feminist, whose activism helped to pave the way for a society which allowed women far more freedom than they had in the past.
Egyptian women at the time were subject to a harem system, which meant that women were made to be veiled and secluded from society, regardless of what religion they practiced. She worked to educate women, organising lectures which encouraged them to get out of their homes and opening a school for girls centred around academic rather than practical teaching. She was also involved in decrying British rule in Egypt after the first World War.
Huda is perhaps most famous for the act of publicly removing her veil in 1923, an act that was soon followed by other Egyptian women. Within a decade, most Egyptian women were choosing not to wear veils.
Huda continued to be an activist for the rest of her life until her death in 1947. She used her intelligence and strength to speak up for women, and to tell them that they have a choice; to wear what they want, to learn what they want, to live how they want. Huda continues to inspire Arab women to this day. I feel that Huda can fit into either ‘Underrated’ or ‘Overlooked’, as I had never heard of her before and I suspect many non-Arabs haven’t either.
My main source is this site, and another good article can be found here.
Today, on International Women’s Day, I have drawn a lady who, while overlooked outside of Australia, remains a topic of debate within the country. Trukanini/Truganani (c.1812-1876) Was a Tasmanian Aborigine. At sixteen years old, in an attempt to save her people from genocide inflicted by British colonisers, she worked as an interpreter for a man named Augustus Robinson to encourage native people to move to an island missionary. She believed this was their best chance at survival as many Aborigines, including her mother and partner were the victims of violence by colonisers, as well as the new diseases brought they brought across. In reality, Robinson’s promises came to nothing and he soon abandoned them when a better job came up. Most of the people died on the journey and still more died on the island. They spent the rest of their lives under government supervision. Truganini ‘spent 20 years imprisoned, with other Aboriginal Tasmanians, on Flinders Island, and another 17 years in the Oyster Cove camp, south of Hobart.’*
Truganini lived into her sixties, seeing her people almost wiped out, and being treated as a scientific specimen as the supposed ‘last Tasmanian.’ She deeply feared what would happen to her body after she died, and this was justified, as after her death her body was put on public display at the Tasmanian Museum from 1904 to 1947, and for scientific viewings until the seventies. One hundred years after her death, the Palawa people, modern-day Aboriginal Tasmanians, were able to reclaim her remains, and she was finally put to rest.
The cruel treatment of Truganini in life and to this day, demonstrates the racist attitudes which shaped her life and the lives of Aborigine people.
‘Today they still face racist attitudes, and there are periodic incidents of violence towards them, particularly affecting those in police custody. Their generally poor living conditions mean that Aboriginal people have a far higher infant mortality rate and suicide rate and a lower life expectancy than the rest of the population, and they make up a disproportionate section of the prison population.’ **
Colonisers did their best to wipe out native populations, and I hope that white people, myself included, will not let the shame we feel at the behaviour of our ancestors and an alarming number of our contemporaries, prevent us from raising up the voices of cruelly treated native people across the globe.
You can see some of the photographs taken of Truganini here. A brilliant article about her is here .
* Quote is from australianmuseum.net.au and has written a brief summary of her life in a far more succinct way than I have!
So it’s time for lady two, and this one fits into the underrated category! Josephine Baker (1906-1975) was an American singer and dancer who is most famous for that banana skirt. But did you know she was also a spy?
Josephine (born Freda Josephine McDonald) grew up in terrible poverty and in segregation, working from the age of 8 to help provide for her family. From this background, she soon rose to stardom and was part of a touring dance company by the age of 16.
Baker moved to France in 1925, still a teenager, and it was in Paris that she really hit the big time as a solo performer. Performing exotic erotic dances, she excited crowds, most famously in the banana skirt, in the “Danse Sauvage,” benefiting from the French fascination with black people at this time. She became one of the best known and best paid performers in Europe at that time, and the first black woman ever to star in a motion picture in 1934.
It was this reputation that afforded her the trust of important Nazi officials when Paris was occupied during the Second World War. She worked for the French Resistance, smuggling secrets by writing on sheet music in invisible ink. At the end of the war, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honour with the rosette of the Resistance, two of France’s highest military accolades.
In the 1960’s Baker was also an important activist; she flew from France in order to speak against segregation in the US, and was the only female speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, it was Josephine who was asked to take the lead of the Civil Rights Movement, but Baker declined (this role was taken up instead by Coretta Scott King).
There are plenty of articles out there discussing Josephine’s work as a spy and for human rights, and yet I imagine many people, like me, knew nothing about this amazing woman except that she wore a banana skirt. Josephine Baker deserves to be an icon for her performances, as well as her inspiring contributions to society. It was precisely her role as entertainer that made high ranking officers give up their state secrets, and she deserves to be remembered as a dramatic and impressive woman.
Again, massive thanks to The History Chicks for educating me on Josephine, and you can also learn about her in this episode of the Lost Boss Bitch podcast. I also loved this article from AnOther, which is worth a read if you’d like to find out more!
This is the first of an undetermined number of portraits I’ll be doing of amazing women this month. I’m calling the project ‘Overlooked & Underrated,’ as the women I’m choosing fit into two categories.
Underrated is women you’ve heard of, but often only for their looks or fame. Think Princess Diana and Audrey Hepburn: remembered for their appearances and style, rather than their considerable work for charitable causes. These women are often remembered for superficial reasons, when the truth is that they helped society tremendously with comparatively little recognition.
Overlookedwill hopefully introduce you to women of history who you have never heard of. They worked hard and the affects of the work they did might still be felt today, but they have been forgotten or even deliberately excluded from the history books.
Today’s woman falls into the first category for me. Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958) was a British scientist who pioneered research in coal, DNA and viruses. Science at this time was almost exclusively the realm of men, but Rosalind refused to be put off, despite facing considerable sexism, especially by her colleague Maurice Wilkins. Her photograph of DNA led to the discovery of the double helix for which James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in 1962.
Due to her uncomfortable relationship with Wilkins, Franklin left the research team at King’s College in 1953. Her career was cut tragically short when at 37 she died of ovarian cancer.
I heard about her just a few days ago while listening to a recent episode of the In Our Time podcast from the BBC. As someone who has always had a fascination in women’s history I was really disappointed not to have heard of this woman, who really is the reason we now understand DNA. Not only this, but to hear the level of exclusion and sexism she faced from her male peers even as she pushed forward with her groundbreaking discoveries, is inspiring.
Discovering Rosalind has also led me to discover the Lost Boss Bitch podcast, which I’m really enjoying and has inspired a few more of the ‘Overlooked & Underrated’ women to come! I also always love listening to The History Chicks podcast, which also works to highlight impressive women of the past.
I hope you like today’s illustration, and keep an eye out for the next ones to come!
I’ve been dreaming of going to Belgium for a while now. In all honesty, I fell in love with the idea of Belgium because I fell in love with its art; all it took was seeing the Arnolfini Portrait in real life and I was obsessed. I wrote my BA dissertation on the art of the Low Countries and I thought that would be the end of my love (how much can you love something when you’ve written 10,000 words about it?!) but instead, I learned that 10,000 words weren’t enough.
Two weeks ago today I was in Ghent. The weather was awful, foggy and rainy and the wind was like a punch in the face… but I was delightfully happy. The city is beautiful and old and it felt as though it was bursting at the seams with history. I got to see the Lamb of God by Jan van Eyck, which I couldn’t stare at enough. I think if I lived in Ghent (and believe me, that is a tempting prospect) I would go and see it every other day. The lower panels on the interior side are currently replaced with replicas, as the real panels are being restored at the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in the city. Being able to see the restoration process was also a highlight for me.
My art pilgrimage also lead to Bruges, which houses another van Eyck masterpiece as well as many other pieces of beautiful art from the Low Countries. I still find it tricky to put my finger on what exactly makes the paintings of this region so fascinating. Perhaps it’s something about the people; they so often seem to be holding onto a secret, and the calculated poise of the wealthy classes gives so little away; the total opposite to the far more popular art of the Italian Renaissance. I suppose this is the earliest European art which makes a convincing attempt to depict reality; suddenly there’s a sense of space created with the use of perspective instead of flat or even plain gold backgrounds. It’s also the first time we see real people; nobles and merchants, rather than purely religious scenes. It’s a window into a time which is entirely unfamiliar to us.
We stayed in Brussels, which is beautiful and interesting, but honestly was less exciting for me than Bruges and Ghent. In part this was because the city was destroyed in c. 1700 and therefore was entirely rebuilt since then, unlike Ghent which has barely been touched since the middle ages.
Unfortunately, the trip is also important to me as it marked the end of a relationship. The reality is that taking this trip together, after being long distance for a while, confirmed for us that we no longer worked as a couple. While it’s for the best, it really sucks. We were great together for a while, and I really hate that it didn’t last; but when you know it’s wrong you have no choice but to accept it.
These paintings were actually quite hard to paint, as they forced me to confront feelings which I would prefer to suppress. Looking at them now, however, I see them as full of hope for the future, and a willingness to focus on the very best of things.
It’s only been two weeks since I was in Ghent, and a lot has changed. Back home, the sun has come out today after the rain, and I feel the same. I hope you do, too.
I painted these scenes inspired by some of the photos I took in summer.
Nothing beats turquoise and orange/yellow as a colour combo!! Such vibrant, happy colours.
(Yellow is my fave colour in case you haven’t noticed yet!!)
These are some of my favourite pieces that I’ve produced in a while. I’ve finally had the courage to loosen up in the way I work, and I think the personality shines out so much more! My next goal is to keep finding ways to incorporate patterns into my paintings, I just love to use pattern.
It does seem a bit ironic that I came up with this design slap-bang in the middle of a cold British winter!! But this many smiley faces and this much lively yellow can only be an antidote the darkness, and a nice reminder that spring is not really so far away.
In truth, I came up with this design because I was thinking back (again) on what was probably the first time my artwork was ever criticised. I was four or five, in my first year of school. I was painting a landscape at the easel and I gave the sunshine a cute smiley face, when my teacher came up behind me and told me that the sun shouldn’t have a face!! Well, even at that age I knew VERY well that the sun didn’t have a face, duh!! I was pretty precocious about my art at that age so I was seething, and clearly I haven’t gotten over it yet (I turn 23 next year so it’s almost 20 years since it happened…. which is nuts).
And so I decided that perhaps a bit of art therapy would help me to get over this tragic, harrowing experience from my youth – ha!