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On Canvas and Behind the Easel, Representation of Women is a Complicated Art Form

‘There are still a lot of shows and museums in London that overly represent men and the male gaze,’ says artist Emilia Olsen.

LONDON — “Do women have to be naked to get into the MET Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the modern art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.”

This quote by the Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous group of feminist activists and female artists whom wear gorilla masks, can be found on a variety of merchandise at the Tate Modern Museum in London, England.

It turns out the Guerrilla Girls’ statistic about the MET Museum is comparable to art galleries and museums in Europe. The Guerrilla Girls also make a point to strive for female artists of color, female LGBTQ+ artists, and womens rights that reach beyond issue such as abortion.

Image from Google

Vasilis Moschas, an art educator from the Tate Modern, gives further insight into what modern art of women in London reveals about their representation.

“There seems to be a scarcity in how many female artists are represented in London art galleries and a concern in exactly how they are represented,” Moschas said.

“In London, 78% of galleries represent men more than women, and 5% represent an equal number of male and female artists,” says Moschas. “Although the gap has narrowed over the years, art galleries including the Tate Modern strive to keep and make efforts towards inclusivity of women artists and female art. But there is something to say about exactly how women are represented.”

When searching “female representation” on the Tate Modern website, the first page shows 20 paintings of women. On just the first page, 11 out of 20 of the artworks are nude. The second page displays six nudes and the third page features seven.

Painting from Tate Modern done by George Baselitz, 1995 (no title).

“There are still a lot of shows and museums in London that overly represent men and the male gaze. I don’t specifically try to change that,” says London-based artist Emilia Olsen.

The male gaze can be described as the way men visually depict women, which is often in a hyper-sexualized and diminishing way.

Many may view this as an issue, due to the fact that only three male nudes are shown under the first page of male representation and there are no nudes on the second page, whereas there were eleven nudes on the first page of female representation and seven on the second page.

Out of the 11 female nude paintings on the first page, nine of the artists were male. Six of the seven female nude paintings on the second page were done by male artists. All male nude paintings were created by male artists.

It may be argued that the male artists represented at the Tate Modern paint female nudes through their male gaze, due to the overwhelming difference of male and female artists that paint female nudity.

Sampy Sicada, 24, a male artist and graphic designer from Hong Kong, China, creates artwork which features women and nudity, challenges the idea of how women should be represented in modern art.

“I subconsciously deviated towards those more archaic views on beauty where femininity is considered divine and quintessentially beautiful, at least initially,” says Sicada. He believes this may have to do with his upbringing in Hong Kong and boarding houses in Sussex, which he describes as “patriarchal structures socially.”

Photo of Sampy Sicada from Instagram (@sampy_draws)

Sicada offers an interesting angle on misrepresentation of women in modern art in London. “I’d say wrongful misrepresentation is mostly predicted in class because a lot of my art shows have been dominated and curated by higher-class women. This sometimes shows the feminist arguments, dishonest or not, lots of people’s goodwill is used against them which drives further inequality.”

Artwork by Sampy Sicada (all untitled)

“Research has now shown the full extent of the gender inequality, with works by women making up only 7 per cent of the art in the collections of top public museums. Twenty-five pieces in the National Gallery’s collection of 2,391 artworks are by women, a little more than 1 per cent,” Arts Correspondent Liam Kelly recently wrote in The Times of London.

Olsen features many women in her paintings because they are “semi autobiographical.”

“I think in general things are improving,” says Olsen. “I try to tell the truth in my paintings and reclaim our body images as a woman. I paint what I know.”

Emilia Olsen, photo from Instagram (

Being a female artist, Olsen paints women’s bodies. That’s empowering, she says.

“I think men painting women’s bodies is beautiful if they understand the true beauty of women, which means painting all kinds of women,” Olsen says. “Bigger women, smaller women, black women, disabled women, or if it tells a story. But I think many male artists gaze at their artwork.”

Blue Nights by Emilia Olsen
Untitled (Swim 2) by Emilia Olsen

There seems to be a consensus between art educators and artists that women are underrepresented or misrepresented in the media. However, art has always been up for interpretation, and that does not seem to change when it comes to female art and nudity.

Looking forward, London artists might consider coming together to spread awareness on female inclusivity and representation in modern art that is shown in the area’s galleries and museums to show audiences how to interpret all layers of female art.



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