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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

‘Making Their Mark’: A Monumental Showcase of Women Artists’ Legacy and Innovation

This exhibition is the first public exhibition of the Shah Garg Foundation, created in order to advocate for the work and lives of female artists.

Nestled in between various other art galleries, the Making Their Mark exhibition on Chelsea’s West 22nd Street stands out as a beacon of artistic diversity and expression. 

Making Their Mark attracts attention as an important exhibition, carefully curated to show and honor the contributions of female artists over the past eight decades from the Shah Garg Foundation. The exhibition is curated by Cecelia Alemani, and it is a platform for over 80 female artists. From a wide range of mediums including drawings, mixed media, paintings, sculptures, and textiles, this exhibition amplifies the voices and stories of various artists, showing their multi-generational connections, innovations, and influence on the path of art. It not only redefines the standard perceptions of art but also highlights the vital role women have played in the world. By bringing these works to public attention, Making Their Mark advocates for inclusivity, diversity, and gender equality. 

The Shah Garg Foundation, which was founded by couple Komal Shah and Gaurav Garg, pivots on uplifting the voices of both female artists and artists of color. Shah started off in the tech industry, but became a collector after she found herself to have a profound commitment to uplifting underrepresented voices. Originally from Ahmedabad, India, her path led her to the United States, where she studied computer science, gaining executive positions at distinguished companies such as Oracle, Netscape, and Yahoo. However, in 2008 Shah redirected her focus to the arts and philanthropy. Together with her husband, Gaurav Garg, the two began laying the groundwork for what would later become the Shah Garg Foundation. Shah’s connection to textiles, which stemmed from her father’s work as a textile trader, served as an initial muse that propelled her into the world of art collection. This passion began at the Shah Garg Foundation, an organization that is dedicated to addressing the imbalances faced by female artists and to promoting a more inclusive art world. 

Making Their Mark is the first public display of the couple’s collection. As the foundation’s first exhibition, it showcases the meaning and goal of The Shah Garg Foundation’s values. 

Throughout centuries, women have navigated societal constraints and institutional biases in order to make significant contributions to the world of art. Despite facing numerous obstacles, including limited access to education, exclusion from artistic institutions, and societal expectations relegating them to domestic roles, women have continuously challenged norms and pushed boundaries in pursuit of artistic passions.

Women artists often found themselves confined to certain genres considered more suitable for their gender, such as portraiture, still life, and domestic scenes. Nevertheless, many defied these limitations, producing remarkable works in various genres. One notable example is Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian Baroque painter who overcame personal adversity and gender-based discrimination to become one of the most celebrated artists of her time, known for her powerful depictions of Biblical and mythological subjects.

Despite the challenges they faced, women artists persisted in pursuing their craft, often finding alternative paths for expression outside of traditional artistic customs. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the start of feminist movements provided a catalyst for change, leading to increased opportunities for women in the arts. Figures like Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Rosa Bonheur broke new ground, challenging societal norms.

The twentieth century witnessed a significant shift in attitudes towards women artists, with movements such as feminism and gender studies coming into light. Artists like Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Louise Bourgeois emerged as iconic figures, reshaping the landscape of modern and contemporary art with their distinctive perspectives and groundbreaking approaches.

Today, female artists continue to make steps in the art world. An increasing number of institutions and galleries are recognizing the importance of diversity and representation, providing platforms for women artists to showcase their work and contribute to broader conversations about identity, politics, and society — which is where this exhibition comes in.

At first glance, the exhibition stands out. The West 22nd Street gallery houses many exhibitions from various collections. Walking down the street, there are many modern, monochrome buildings, but this one immediately stuck out because of its brownish-red building shade. 

Stepping inside, I was greeted by a vibrant array of colors and mediums, sharply contrasting the bland familiarity I’d expected. 

The exhibition spans two floors, the first floor delving into abstraction while the second floor introduces figuration

The pieces in the exhibition each carry different inspirations and meanings. Some pieces are historical. Firelei Báez, in an interview with Shah and another artist, said that her work For Amethyste and Athenoire is a portrait of the two daughters of King Henry Cristoph, who were exiled. King Henry Christoph was always painted with his son, but never his wife or two daughters, so Báez made this work to give the sisters their portraits. Another work with historical roots is Harriet’s Quilt (2016-22) by artist Joyce J. Scott. This piece piqued my interest, with its colorful beads, knotted fabric, and yarn luring me in. The quilt is part of a group of different works called Harriet Tubman and Other Truths, as the artist’s works commend Harriet Tubman, an American activist and abolitionist who helped free enslaved people. 

Another inspiration was to acknowledge and honor their heritage, like the work Red Painting/Red Person (1976)  by Kay WalkingStick, which stood out to me because of the symbols reflecting her Native American culture, such as the bow and canals.

The exhibition acknowledges different art forms, some of which are considered unorthodox. One form of art that is often overlooked is ceramics. On display are various ceramics by Toshiko Takaezu, a Japanese-American artist who was an important figure in changing the view of pottery as an art rather than a household item. An additional art style that I believe deserves attention is the one that Jennifer Bartlett uses in her piece At Sea (1979) which puts together 115 pieces of enameled steel plates with two pieces of oil on canvas in order to create a beautiful, large piece that focuses on water.

The exhibition doesn’t shy away from works reflecting on the political issues of the artist’s time, such as Among the Multitude VI (2020-22) by Julie Mehretu. The ink and acrylic on canvas piece reflects Mehretu’s involvement with political crises — like her drawings documenting migrant detention centers at the U.S. borders, and violence at anti-immigration protests.

While reflecting on my visit to the Making Their Mark exhibition, I’m left with admiration for the artistic talent that I saw inside the gallery. Each piece tells a unique story, reflecting the creativity and diversity of women artists throughout history. This exhibition not only celebrates women’s individual contributions but also highlights the collective impact of their work on the path of art. 

The exhibition in Chelsea, New York, will close on March 23rd, 2024, then move to the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in California starting in October 2024, and finally to the Kemper Art Museum in St. Louis starting in September 2025. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience this extraordinary exhibition!

The Making Their Mark exhibition on Chelsea’s West 22nd Street stands out as a beacon of artistic diversity and expression.

About the Contributor
Rida Nuamah, Staff Reporter
Rida Nuamah is a Copy Chief for 'The Science Survey' and enjoys writing about arts and entertainment. She finds journalistic writing appealing because it gives her the freedom to write about many different topics. Rida enjoys reading, writing, and going to parks with her family and friends. She would like to study either medicine or meteorology in the future.