From Shadows to Spotlight: Tracing the Journey of Three Female Artists

By Brenna Kehew Sculley

by Celia Cooksey

Choosing where to travel can be overwhelming. Making art exhibits your destination is the best way to see a beautiful city and enjoy the art that is meaningful to you. There are so many incredible exhibits on display this holiday season, with a few highlights in particular that focus on iconic female artists.


Marisol: A Retrospective – Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Through Jan. 21, 2024

María Sol Escobar, later known as Marisol, gained recognition for her artistic prowess in New York during the late 1950s. Her fame stemmed from her distinctive carved wooden sculptures adorned with intricate drawings, fabric, and discovered objects, reflecting the influences of pre-Columbian art and the assemblages of Robert Rauschenberg. Despite her prominent position in the pop art realm, collaborating closely with Andy Warhol and even making appearances in his films, some critics categorized her creations as folk art.

While achieving global fame in the mid-1960s, her prominence waned within a decade. However, she persisted in producing her artworks and eventually resurfaced in the early 21st century, culminating in a notable 2014 retrospective exhibition at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Titled “Marisol: A Retrospective,” this exhibition has now been meticulously curated by Cathleen Chaffee for a series of renowned museums, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Oct. 7, 2023–Jan. 21, 2024), the Toledo Museum of Art (March–June 2024), the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (July 12, 2024 – Jan. 6, 2025), and the Dallas Museum of Art (Feb. 23, 2025–July 6, 2025). Emphasizing Marisol’s artistic legacy, the exhibition primarily draws from the significant collection of artwork and archival material that Marisol bequeathed to the Buffalo AKG Art Museum upon her demise, supplemented by loans from international museums and private collections.

Marisol mimicked the role of femininity in her sculptural works, and is an interesting artist to which we can bring renewed focus and a modern lens.


Simone Leigh – Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.
Through March 3, 2024

For the past two decades, Simone Leigh has meticulously crafted a diverse collection of artistic pieces, ranging from sculptures to video installations. Her creative endeavors are profoundly shaped by her ongoing exploration of the experiences of Black women. Leigh defines her artistic approach as auto-ethnographic, often integrating traditional African art forms into her salt-glazed ceramic and bronze sculptures. Her installations, influenced by performance art, construct spaces where historical influences and personal agency intertwine.

At the heart of Simone Leigh’s artistic vision lies the exploration of Black femme subjectivity. Informed by a profound engagement with Black feminist ideology and drawing inspiration from various historical periods, geographic regions, and artistic legacies in Africa and the African diaspora, Leigh intricately weaves together the Black female figure with architectural structures and household objects. Through her art, she delves into themes of race, unnoticed labor, womanhood, and communal bonds.

Leigh shared with the New York Times the focus of her work as Black women who “have been left out of the archive or left out of history.” She added, “I still think there is a lot to mine in terms of figuring out the survival tools these women have used to be so successful, despite being so compromised.”


Ruth Asawa: Through Line – Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Through January 2024

Ruth Asawa, born in 1926 in Norwalk, California, was the fourth of seven children to Japanese immigrants. Her early years were spent on a truck farm, but in 1942, her family was forcibly separated due to the U.S. government’s internment policies for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Despite these challenges, Asawa’s life and work became a testament to creativity and excellence.

During her time at Black Mountain College in the 1950s, Asawa created a series of striking crocheted wire sculptures in abstract forms, demonstrating her innovative approach to modernist sculpture. She and her peers were pioneering a unique form of modernism, constantly pushing the boundaries of their artistic expression.

While Asawa’s sculptures, characterized by sinuous organic shapes in looped-wire, stone, and bronze, gained significant recognition, drawing remained a cornerstone of her artistic practice. Drawing was not only her “greatest pleasure” but also the most challenging aspect of her creative journey, as she dedicated herself to it daily.

This current exhibition offers a comprehensive view of Asawa’s work, emphasizing the centrality of drawing in her artistic exploration. Curated thematically and inspired by her inquisitive mind, the showcase includes more than 100 pieces, many of which have never been displayed before. These artworks collectively embody Asawa’s unwavering enthusiasm and her belief that art is not merely a set of techniques but rather an approach to learning, questioning, and sharing.

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