Why are there so few ‘great’ female artists?
Today, I headed to Museo de Arte Popular, a Mexican folk art museum near Centro Histórico. The museum consists of three levels, showcasing pieces from pottery to sculptures to textiles.
I personally found the exhibit of Mexican textiles to be the most captivating and enlightening. I learned about the process through which Mexicans traditionally make clothes, from finding raw materials for dye to spinning and weaving fabric on a loom, and saw the handmade huipil, a loose dress, and telar, a loom with a cloth still in-progress, all of them done in a variety of styles and colors and made in different states.
Production of textiles traditionally has been the job of women and girls. To say that the task is demanding and painstaking is no exaggeration. Producing the dyes for clothes is itself already an undertaking. For example, to obtain indigo, they needed to dive into the sea and find the mollusk Plicopurpura pansa which secretes the color; to obtain red, they had to scrape cochineal off of cacti and harvest them.
One of the questions that urged me to travel here to Mexico is why there are so few famous female artists. I think that the answer lies partially in this textile exhibit. The things that girls and women devoted so much time and energy into making such as textiles are not what people generally consider fine art. The amount of time, effort, and skill that is invested into them is no less than the amount in the pieces we consider fine art, yet while the names Picasso and Warhol are passed on generation after generation, the female weavers remain nameless, having never had the chance to even fade into obscurity in the first place. We tend to take for granted the hard work that goes into everyday items like textiles, overlooking their beauty and value which go beyond that of a famous name and hefty price tag at art auctions.
Still, the intricacy, individuality, perseverance behind each of Mexico’s traditional textiles and the cultural longevity of them, to me at least, is a mark of not just fine art— but great art.