Women Are Doing it For Themselves

Makgati Molebatsi
Makgati Molebatsi | Oupa Nkosi/M&G

From showcasing female art in front of wealthy Silicon Valley ‘techies’ to launching an annual art fair in Johannesburg and hosting an international art summit in Dharka – women curators are becoming a force to be reckoned with within the art world. And it’s not before time…

Here we highlight three women curators who are doing wonders for women, as well as helping to promote young up-and-coming artists. 

Komal Shah

Komal Shah | Photo Credit: Jayms Ramirez

Originally from Ahmedabad in India, Shah now lives and works in Atherton, California. A graduate in computer science from Stanford University, she now educates ‘techies’ and engineers in art – particularly art produced by females. She believes women are unjustly discriminated against in the art world and, referring to how little women’s art work sells compared to men’s, says it is her mission to “move the needle as much as I can.” 

She is currently a trustee of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and a board member of the Tate Americas Foundation. She is also a member of the board of the Stanford Arts Advisory Council where she has organised a talk series inviting female artists to show and discuss their work.

Catherine Petitgas

Catherine Petitga | Photo DR

London-based collector Petitgas, who spent her childhood and teenage years in Algeria and Morocco, is a huge fan of Latin American art and its artists – especially conceptual art. Her interest originally involved collecting the art, but now she spends money supporting the artists involved. 

Currently a member of the Tate Latin American Acquisitions Committee and Chair of its International Council, she also supports a number of initiatives in the capital, including the Gasworks & Triangle Network where she offers artists residences and studio space. Eight years ago, she produced books on Brazilian, Colombian and Mexican contemporary art.

Makgati Molebatsi

Makgati Molebatsi | Crédit photo : Artskop

South African Molebatsi was denied an arts education, growing up during the Apartheid years. But she’s making up for it today. A collector and advisor, she packed in a corporate career to train at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, where she took a six-month course in art and business in 2016. She now sees it her mission to cultivate and educate black art collectors. Currently, she is promoting artists who grew up in the townships of the 1960s and 1970s.

As chair of Johannesburg non-profit the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios she hosts exhibitions and introduces curators to artists. She and two colleagues run Latitudes, a Johannesburg art fair that runs alongside FNB Art Joburg. She wants to grow the art scene in smaller South African cities such as Durban and Port Elizabeth.

Shah, Pettigas and Molebatsi aren’t the only female curators out there trying to make the art world fairer for women and groups of impoverished or previously ignored artists, but they are certainly amongst the leading lights. 

The reason it’s so important to have female curators, according to London-based curator Rose Lejeune is because ‘females are more interested in creating ‘conversational spaces’ rather than the ‘I’m going to build a museum phallic approach.’ Or, as another female curator put it: “It feels less like they’re trophy hunting!”

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