Women’s History Month: Celebrating Female Artists Then and Now

This month, we celebrate women and the contributions and achievements they have made throughout history, culture, and society.

by Barry Dougherty

During the month of March, we celebrate women and the contributions and achievements they have made throughout history, culture, and society. History books are filled with the accomplishments of women but mostly relegated to footnotes and sidebars. It took an official proclamation from President Ronald Reagan in 1987 to declare March as Women’s History Month and remind the nation that women have, since the beginning of time, been an invaluable asset with intellectual gifts, creative talents, and an indomitable spirit. They have excelled in business, government, volunteer activities, religious life, education, health, the military, sports, and so much more. And undeniably the arts.

Agora Gallery is honoring Women’s History Month by showcasing the work of several incredibly talented female artists. The artists’ achievements are highlighted through a variety of artistic genres and dynamic pieces in an exhibition titled Solitude, Introspection & Surrealism (March 5-25). Their art depicts myriad emotions where fear, hesitation, and clarity find a balance with peace and serenity. From brush strokes that are dark and bold to lively bright patterns, observers will find themselves examining their own conscious thoughts and feelings while noting the essence of serene isolation in their creations.

Women have been carving their own unique niche in art for centuries, from the alleged seamstresses who embroidered The Bayeux Tapestry in the 1070s or Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614), one of the first women in history to execute large, publicly commissioned figure paintings. Elisabetta Sirani (1638–1665) was an Italian Baroque artist who started the first school of painting for women, fostering the talents of female artists and paving the way so contemporary female artists can continue to express themselves through artistic freedom.

Exhibiting artist Gabriella Mirabelli creates art to find peace and serenity in herself. She looks upon her paintings as a map to help people find that pocket of space. A serene analog detour from our noisy frantic digital world. Jennifer Valenzuela’s work has a mid-century aesthetic and frame of mind. Inspired by her admiration of the Hawaiian people and the adornment of the island’s magical environment, she plays with the physics of space and time, transporting her viewers both physically and philosophically.

Filipina painter Sal Ponce Enrile equates her paintings to controlled chaos. While her right-hand shakes uncontrollably with a condition known as essential tremor, this unique circumstance allows her hands to flow freely, creating works that are imperfect yet harmonious. With a background in politics, Enrile is motivated by the people that she has publicly served for years.
Photographer and Texas native Susan Whitfield focuses on Texas history. She travels across the state searching for unique settings and things that often go unnoticed in our everyday experiences. Whitfield’s photographs portray the small moments in life that are happening all around us if we just look for them. Artist Marilyn Miller does not draw inspiration for her paintings from any particular person or movement; rather, her paintings are informed by nature–from mountains to the oceanside and everything in between. Her images evoke whatever emotion observers need it to.

Danish artist Else Husted Kjær views life as a form of poetry. Stirred by the landscapes of Scandinavia, her colorful abstract paintings pay tribute to nature and the human experience. Venezuelan-born artist Linda Behar holds a bachelor’s in civil engineering, an MFA with an emphasis in printmaking, and is a specialist in glass casting and pate de verre. She is an academic whose research mostly concerns feminism.

Sahar Khalkhalian is an Iranian-born artist represented by Agora and in an exciting turn for both the artist and Agora, will be showing her work at SCOPE New York March 5-8 at Metropolitan Pavilion, at booth 005. SCOPE New York’s spirit of innovation has forged the way for emerging artists and galleries and is renowned for presenting groundbreaking contemporary work.

The Gamble of Destiny by Sahar Khalkhalian
The Gamble of Destiny, 2019, Acrylic & Mixed Media on Canvas, 36″ x 48″ by Sahar Khalkhalian

Sahar’s art explores powerful and traumatic themes including separation and isolation, as well as loss of humanity and identity. As a child, she endured the 8-year Iran-Iraq War and immigration to Germany, alone with her sister, at the age of 13. Sahar experienced firsthand just how easily an individual’s humanity and identity could be shattered or ripped away to become only a fleeting memory for those who manage to survive. As a result, her paintings center directly on expressing these feelings. Being invited to show at SCOPE New York is a testament to her survival.

In honoring female artists this month, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the talent, energy, and passion of Agora Gallery founder Miki Stiles. She was a dedicated artist who relocated from her native Israel to make an impression on the New York art scene. She found it inspiring, energizing, and overwhelming but also an obstinate obstacle without the proper connections to move her career forward. In 1984, through her tenaciousness and drive, she opened her own gallery to show her work and provide other artists the opportunity to connect and exhibit their artwork as well. Stiles took a risk promoting artists with no track record but due to her determination and compassion for other artists, the gallery continues to thrive. She is no longer with us, but Stiles legacy lives on through each work of art that appears in the gallery that she created.

Miki stiles together with her son, Ariel Kahana, the current owner of Agora Gallery

Highlighting the artistic talents of our brilliant artists today is also an homage to our past. Women like Stiles, determined to take her dream and her commitment to her craft to a new and enterprising level, deserve to be recognized in a time when their accomplishments can now be counted. Stiles broke from the norms of the past to inform the present and inspire the future. We are so grateful that her voice is still being heard.

Agora is a Greek word meaning “open marketplace,” a place where people came not only to buy and sell goods but also to meet and exchange news and ideas. It’s a place where everyone is welcome, and Agora has truly lived up to its name. We are proud to promote the message as set forth in that proclamation: “From earliest times, women have helped shape our Nation. Historians today stress all that women have meant to our national life, but the rest of us too should remember, with pride and gratitude, the achievements of women throughout American history.”

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Barry Dougherty is a New York writer whose articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Antiques and the Arts Weekly, and The News Times, among others. He is the author of several books including How To Do It Standing Up and The Friars Club Encyclopedia of Jokes. He has been the head writer for the Friars Club Roasts and is a contributing writer on the Living Out Loud: Writers Riff on Love, Sweat & Fears essay tour. He is the principal of BMD Communications, a multi-faceted writing services company specializing in writing, editing and PR.


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