Women’s Art Is Every Kind of Art

Lalla Essaydi in the New York Times

By 1973, Linda Nochlin was a famed feminist art historian, but a portrait of her from that year at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, highlights another, equally important role she held: as a mother.


In a painting by the American artist Alice Neel, full of broad brush strokes and vibrant colors, Nochlin looms large as a matriarch, her wide eyes confronting the viewer head-on, as she protectively envelops her daughter, Daisy, who — like her mother — stares out expectantly from the canvas.


The portrait is among the first visitors to the M.F.A. see when they enter “Women Take the Floor,” an exhibition, through May 3, 2021, that features 200 mixed-media works by more than 100 women over the past century. (The museum announced on Thursday that it was closing over concerns about the coronavirus.) It’s a fitting introduction to a show that interrogates the historic exclusion and devaluation of women in the art world — an appeal Nochlin put forth in her now-classic, 1971 essay that the exhibition cites: “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”


In the photography gallery, rotating works by the Moroccan-born artist Lalla Essaydi incorporate Islamic calligraphy, a sacred art form dominated by men in part because of the training required to master it. In “Converging Territories #30,” currently on view, Essaydi inscribed it on her models’ clothing, bodies and surroundings with henna, a decorative dye traditionally applied by women. The four women and girls pictured are in a house where female members of Essaydi’s family — including Essaydi — were locked in isolation, sometimes weeks at a time, for disobedient acts like entering spaces impermissible to women.

12 March 2020