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From Yoko Ono to Frida Kahlo: These 7 Artists Used Art to Change the Way Women Are Perceived

Art is a way of life and there are a lot of pieces of art that revolve around women. Like many things in life, a lot of art pieces are vaguely sexist in their rendering, making people question their beliefs. However, just because art is beautiful, does not mean that it is always morally sound.

There are many female artists who took to art to talk about the predicament that women seem to have been in for hundreds of years. A lot of art has made people see women in a very different light. Here are some of those. 

Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci (1503)

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One of the most iconic paintings in the world, da Vinci's Mona Lisa threw the whole art scene into a tizzy with her Cheshire smile, and secretive side-look. It is not one of Leonardo da Vinci's best works, but its value skyrocketed because of his own insistence that it was. Mona Lisa might have been the first woman to gain celebrity status because of her looks, and no one can forget her anytime soon. 


Cut Piece, Yoko Ono (1964) 

First staged on July 20, 1964, at Yamaichi Concert Hall in Kyoto, Japan, Cut Piece examined, in a disarmingly simple way, the role that the female body has played in art throughout the ages. How should we regard it today? In the art piece, Yoko Ono sat on the stage, impassive, as the viewers cut pieces of her clothing till she was nude. This was a powerful piece, which brought into focus the way women's bodies are portrayed in art, and the way viewers dissect those paintings. 


Automat, Edward Hopper, 1927

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This realist painting was displayed on Valentine's Day in 1927. The subject and its rendering were so different from what the women of the Jazz Age were portrayed to be, that it forced the viewers to see women as human beings, and not just glittering birds who enjoyed partying, and dressing up. The simple woman in the painting, with her anxious look and almost sad demeanour, enforced the belief that women can be alone, and drink coffee alone. They do not need men around them all the time. 

L'Origine du Monde, Gustave Courbet (1862)

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Courbet rejected academic traditionalism and bourgeois convention, seeking conflict both artistically and socially with an aim to, as he has said, "change the public's taste and way of seeing." Instead of idealising his subjects like his Romanticist contemporaries, he dedicated himself to showing things as they are and that too bluntly. His erotically portrayed nudes were received with scandal and even police attention. This particular piece forced the idea of a realistic portrayal of women in the minds of the general public. Scandal or no scandal, they were forced to accept that women are not just the perfect portrayals that Renaissance canvases depicted. 


Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, Frida Kahlo, 1940

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A lot of paintings by Frida Kahlo are real, in the sense that they do not hide the reality of women in all their magnificence. She is one of the only painters who depicted females with a unibrow. The feminine beauty, in the traditional sense, made out a woman to be perfect with no body hair, and just the right size. Kahlo rubbished a lot of those beliefs by painting herself with facial hair, and 'displeasing' demeanour. Her paintings, especially the self-portraits, forced the people to appreciate and accept the human form just as it is. 


The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago (1979)

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An installation artwork by feminist artist Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party is widely regarded as the first epic feminist artwork. It functions as a symbolic history of women in Western civilization. There are 39 elaborate place settings arranged along a triangular table for 39 mythical and historically famous women. Sacajawea, Sojourner Truth, Virginia Woolf, Susan B. Anthony, and Georgia O'Keeffe are among the guests. Each unique place-setting includes a hand-painted china plate, ceramic flatware and chalice, and a napkin, and depicts a brightly-coloured, elaborately styled vulva form.


Rosie the Riveter,  J. Howard Miller (1943) 

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One of the most iconic posters for female emancipation was an American wartime poster, which was made as an inspirational image to boost worker's morale. Seen very few times during the World War II, it was rediscovered in the early 1980s and widely reproduced in many forms, often called We Can Do It! but better known as Rosie the Riveter after the iconic figure of a strong female war production worker. This poster was used to promote feminism and other political issues beginning in the 1980s. 


Do you know of other such paintings that changed the way women were viewed? 

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