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Decentrings: non-Western women artists of the 1950s
In the school curriculum
20.03.2020 | Ariane Fleury

Inji Efflatoun, Loom, 1955, oil on canvas, 65 x 79 cm, Courtesy Safarkhan Art Gallery

While Algerian, Lebanese, Argentinian and Chinese women artists were often left on the margins of the art historical discourse of the 1950s, it is nonetheless vital that their contributions to the decade be taken into account, in order to understand the full extent of its diversity and richness. Many of these artists took part wholeheartedly in the artistic development of the time through their travels and exchanges with Asia, South America and Europe. Among these was the Japanese artist Fujio Yoshida (1887-1987) who spent several years in the United States. The way she used visual references from both Japanese and Western traditions is a perfect example of these artists’ ability to ease their way into foreign stylistic themes by making them theirs. Saloua Raouda Choucair (1916-2017) also demonstrated this with her approach to abstraction, which brings to mind both American field painting and the Sufi worldview.

These forms of syncretism did not prevent the artists from highlighting their cultural heritage and personal experience. While Pan Yuliang (1899-1977) borrowed from Western realistic figuration, her ink drawings were also reminiscent of Chinese precepts and her fondness for intimist female nudes evocative of her experience with prostitution. The same applies to the references that Baya (1931-1998) used in her works, which combine the influence of Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and of the Berber fabrics of her native Algeria. During a period when artistic movements multiplied and aesthetic debates raged – the opposition between abstraction and figuration, for instance – these artists with contrasting careers brought their singular vision to a pivotal era in the history of 20th-century art.

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