In 1985 the Museum of Modern Art, New York, staged an exhibition titled An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture, which included 169 artists out of which only 17 were women. In the press release the curator stated ‘Any artist who is not in my show should rethink his career’. In response to this exhibition and statement, the group Guerilla Girls took form and vowed to fight sexism in the international art scene. In 2011 things have improved on an institutional plane, but the commercial art world is often still behind, with many commercial gallery lists showing only a small percentage of women artists. In an era where women artists are making some of the most dynamic and interesting art, the conclusion can only be that this imbalance is down to economics, the lack of pressure to change and latent sexism.
When is a human being a woman? brings together diverse practices that consider gender roles, identity, agency and representation. The works point in many directions: strong female role models are held up, feminist art history is paid tribute to, a history of expressions of the body is constructed, stereotypical gender roles are questioned and alternatives are suggested. The title When is a human being a woman? is taken from Invisible Adversaries, a 1980s film by Valie Export. The protagonist never answers her own statement, but speculates that the experience of the female body is both personal and alien, both a subject and an object. Whilst artists continuously examine their subject position, feminism has reemerged (if it ever went away) as a strong force in questions surrounding the production of art.