Work, Identity & Gender Disparity in the Arts

On May 1, at MATCH (Mid-town Arts Theater Center Houston), VAA presented three artists in conversation on Work, Identity and Gender Disparity in the Arts. Panelists representing three generations, Pat Colville, Terrell James, and Rabéa Ballin, shared their artistic journeys.  Moderated by Sarah Beth Wilson, Director of Exhibitions and Curatorial Projects for Art League Houston, the conversation was framed by the acclaimed essay written by Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists,” written in 1971. 

Consistent with Nochlin’s approach, the artists’ discussion highlighted institutional rather than individual obstacles. The panelists, individually, experienced great support from other artists but acknowledged external challenges around art.

Membership was a common thread through each artist’s experience. The sense of being included verses excluded. Pat Colville cited both personal and professional motivations for moving to NYC.  She described a sense of being an outsider in both the academic and artistic communities in Houston.  Terrell James described her college experience of being an outsider and requesting to join a group of male college painters. Rabéa Ballin shared her mentorship experience of being asked by a manager to not just be among the group but to join the group. The take away idea being, asserting oneself verses waiting to be invited.   

The event ended with audience questions.  Two discussions that stood out were Rabéa Ballin’s observation that artist’s racial identity was a mirror of the racial identity of the audience who attended their exhibitions. The second discussion was between panelists themselves and their belief in the importance of vacating gender labeling like ‘women artists.’ 

In the end, the conversation was broader than gender and the discussion highlighted the benefit and need in the art community for more opportunities to hear from practicing artists.