As is often the case, history tends to gloss over the contributions of women to human endeavor, and art is no exception. Below, we explore the lives and artistic work of two remarkable women – Leonora Carrington and Augusta Savage.
Born in Britain during the first world war, Carrington studied at the Ozenfant Academy of Fine Arts where she developed a deep interest in surrealism. In the years preceding World War II, Carrington would go on to meet Max Ernst, renowned for his contributions to the surrealist and dada movements. The two quickly fell in love and moved to Paris, where they developed a significant presence among other pioneers of surrealism.
The surrealist movement’s tendency to infantilize and eroticize women had no bearing on Carrington’s work as an artist. She vehemently rebelled against tradition and threw herself into her own process, never quite attaining the same renown as her peers.
The beginning of World War II brought Carrington’s relationship with Ernst to an abrupt end, forcing them to flee in separate directions. Carrington experienced a severe psychological breakdown shortly thereafter and was thus detained in a Spanish asylum where she was heavily medicated.
Upon her release, Carrington fled Europe to eventually settle in Mexico City, which would become her lifelong home. There, she naturally gravitated toward other artists living in diaspora, among whom she met her husband-to-be, Emerico Weisz. In the years that were to come, Carrington continued to paint and write, exploring mystical and surreal reflections of everyday life. She eventually passed away in 2011 after a prolific career in the arts, leaving behind a treasure trove of fascinating creations.
Her curiosity, wealth of experience, imagination, and skill evident in her work, and her disavowal of the traditional and mundane mark her as a truly revolutionary and influential 20th century artist.
American sculptor and activist Augusta Savage lived a life characterized by resistance through art. She displayed a keen interest in art from an early age, which was consistently beaten down by her father. Despite this, Savage became a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance during the early 20th century. As a black woman in the arts during this time, she faced crippling adversity. However, this only strengthened her resolve to fight for structural and ideological change in the arts.
In 1929, one of her works entitled Gamin eventually garnered enough public recognition to earn her a scholarship in Paris, where she flourished as an artist. She went from strength to strength, winning several awards for her work during her stay in France.
Three years later, Savage returned home to open what is now the Harlem Community Art Center. During the 1930’s, Savage produced numerous lauded works and became the first black artist to join the National Association of Women Sculptors and Painters.
Unfortunately, she was ousted from her position at the Harlem Community Art Center following a hiatus during which she completed The Harp, a massive sculpture commissioned by the New York World’s Fair to celebrate black American musicians. Her career declined after this, but she remained dedicated to teaching art and producing her own work. In 1962, she succumbed to a lengthy battle with cancer.
Both Carrington and Savage were as incredible as jackpot winners in New Zealand mobile pokies. They were trailblazers for generations that would come after them, tirelessly practicing their crafts and working to dispel marginalization.