Female Artists for IWD 2019: Shuby and Sara Pope

In our third double bill for International Women’s Day 2019, we get to meet ACE Club artists Shuby and Sara Pope. A word of warning: don't ask them about being ‘female artists’. They don't take it too kindly. #BalanceForBetter

Shuby and Sara Pope

Shuby [left] and Sara Pope [right]

What do womanhood and femininity mean to you?

Shuby: I wouldn't say I identify with the words womanhood and femininity in any traditional sense. I was brought up by a single mother who always told me to 'Do what makes you happy' and 'Don't let the bastards grind you down'. I think this gave me independence and freedom that never really related me to femininity or womanhood.

Sara Pope: Femininity is quite hard to define! It's a beautiful and poetic thing, that has inspired artists and writers for centuries to try and capture it.

Womanhood incorporates femininity but is not confined to it. Women (as are men) are complex, full of contradictions, and may frequently fluctuate in and out of the stereotypically defined female and male qualities.

Who do you consider to be your female role models and how do they influence your work?

Shuby: I would consider Cindy Sherman and Tracy Emin inspirations. They don't influence my work, but I appreciate what they've done.

First, Cindy Sherman and her generation changed the rules of what is meant to be an artist. Sherman was able to challenge female stereotypes by repossessing the male gaze and challenging female representations in art. This was a part of an explosion of feminist art, film and photography which I'm grateful for.

Emin, on the other hand, challenged the entire art world by simply existing and using her own experiences as the subject of her art. This led to a great furore at the time when she was personally disparaged for simply being herself. On many levels, she fought the establishment and won. I think that's great. Also, she is from Thanet, the same neck of the woods as me.

Sara Pope: Females I consider to be inspiring tend to be creative, avant-garde, independent thinkers who don't conform to social expectations: Grace Jones, Vivienne Westwood, Coco Chanel, Tracey Emin, Frida Kahlo. They inspire me to believe that anything is possible.

Shuby: 'Sparkly Not For Girls' [left] and 'Lone Ranger and Candy Barr' [right]

Sparkly Not For Girls and Lone Ranger by Shuby

| Click the images above to visit Shuby's profile |


Is feminism still relevant in the 21st century or is it an outdated movement?

Shuby: Yes, I feel feminism is still very relevant. With its intersectionality, feminism has taken on new energy with many other contemporary issues including race, climate change, sexuality and representation.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo movement have given a voice to women about the abuse of male privilege and power that was previously somehow deemed acceptable. I don't think it's outdated as it's brought about a seed of change in the discussion about sexism, individual rights and boundaries.

Sara Pope: Yes definitely, it's very relevant. Until the emancipation of women has been achieved there will still be a need to address the issue.

In recent times, there has been a fierce debate over the exclusion of transgender women from women-only spaces in the name of feminism. What are your thoughts about it?

Shuby: I would not discriminate on that basis - to me if a man is transitioning or has transitioned to a woman, they are a woman - so I have no issues with sharing women-only spaces. Feminism means different things to different women, I'm a feminist but wouldn't agree with all arguments made in the name of feminism.

Sara Pope: This is perhaps not a straightforward issue. Transgender women should, of course, have the rights of women, which includes access to women-only spaces. However, in single-sex spaces where for example there is nudity, women have spoken out about their fear that transgender access leaves the space open to possible abuse/harassment by males who are not transgender. A solution needs to be found that would offer respect and protection for all.

Sara Pope: 'Cherry Pop' [left], 'Ultra Darling' [centre] and 'Hot Gossip' [right] from her Violent Femmes series


Cherry Pop Ultra Darling and Hot Gossip by Sara Pope

| Click the images above to visit Sara Pope's profile |


In the last decade, galleries and museums worldwide have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to address the gender imbalance of artists exhibited in their spaces. As we all know, not only women are shown less than men, but their works sell for far less money too. Have you experienced situations where you feel you were treated as a lesser artist simply because of your gender?

Shuby: Yes, plenty of times. This is why street art has been so great for me and helped me push forward on my own terms, giving me an alternative to needing the recognition of curators and galleries. I find it inspiring and validating dealing directly with the audience. Social media is great for that too. Having said that I've had amazing support over the years from galleries and other artists male and female alike, so I also feel very lucky to be making a living in the art world and constantly meeting great people. I tend to put my energies into relationships that are positive, where people genuinely like what I do and not worry about the situations that just don't work or feel chauvinist.

Sara Pope: In my personal experience I haven't ever felt that I've been treated as lesser for being a female artist. The galleries that I work with tend to have a fairly even split of women and men, so with an equal input from men and women, gender has never been an issue.

I realise though that my experience is not necessarily representative.

It's true also that at the higher price bracket of art, in an auction, for example, men's work sells for a lot more than women's work. Perhaps it's less to do with the galleries influence, and more with the ongoing prejudice of the collectors who perceive a male artist's work to be more valuable and a safer investment.

There seems to be also an increasing number of all-women shows. Do they give female artists visibility or are they just perpetuating the divide?

Shuby: I think there is a rebalance to be made. Historically, most shows were all-male so I think it is positive to have all female shows. They are often organised by women, so we have control over our own representation and exhibition spaces. As much as I would want to be in a post-feminist era where all women shows are unnecessary, I'd say currently they do give women access to the art market, to selling and to new audiences. This is great. All sorts of women who I'd never hear of are celebrated in shows like this including those erased from history - like Jann Haworth who co-designed the iconic cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band with virtually no credit- and 60’s pop artists I love, like Pauline Boty, are then re-discovered. The divide is only conquered by normalising female artists and erasing the dichotomy of genders like many other divisions in work and society.

Sara Pope: All women shows not only give women more visibility but also draw people's attention to the fact that there is an imbalance. This is a positive move forward as awareness encourages the balance to be readdressed.

On that note, I'm delighted to be included in the all-woman show 'Women Of Mass Distraction' at Stella Dore Gallery, where I will be showing work alongside a group of amazing female artists. It opens on 7th March.

Shuby: 'World Without Shame' [left] and 'Take Off Your Clothes and Live' [right]

World Without Shame and Take Off Your Clothes And Live by Shuby

| Click the images above to discover 'Take Off Your Clothes and Live' by Shuby |


And finally, if you were to interview yourself as a woman and an artist, what question would you like to be asked and why?

Shuby: I would ask: 'Do you find it annoying when people ask what it's like to be a female artist?' I'd say absolutely YES! The reason is that I've only ever been a woman, so I have nothing else to compare it with. I'm just doing my thing as Shuby.

Sara Pope: I would ask 'What is your motivation for creating art?'

I think this is a very fascinating question to ask any artist. Art is the one thing that no one asked you to do, so what is it that you feel so strongly about that creates the need to express something in this way.

I wouldn't feel compelled to ask myself anything specifically female-focused. I create art, I think that's the most interesting thing, not my gender.


NY Ladies Series by Sara Pope

Portraits from the New York Ladies series by Sara Pope


More articles in this series:

Female artists for IWD 2019 Lucy Bryant and Pam Glew

Female artists for IWD 2019 Alexandra Gallagher and Maria Rivans

Female artists for IWD 2019 Emma Elliott and Ange Bell