10 Women Artists Under 40 Who Are Leading the Way

women artists painting Mary Cassat Georgia O'Keefe Frida Kahlo
From left to Right: Mary Cassatt “Young Women Picking Fruit”, Georgia O’Keefe “Red Snapdragons” and Frida Kahlo “Self Portrait with a Monkey” – Three of the most influential women artists in Art History

The statistics about women in arts can be discouraging; it is estimated that only 5% of works featured in major permanent collections worldwide were created by women. Thankfully, things are evolving and female artists such as Frida Kahlo, Yayoi Kusama or Marina Abramovic are as well known as some of their male peers. And the future seems to be in good hands; young women artists are also at the forefront of the contemporary art scene. Their work is exhibited in prestigious international museums, from the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Discover the newly established and emergent artists who are shaking up an industry that has been male dominated for too long.

#1 Camille Henrot

Camille Henrot Palais de Tokyo exhibition Days are Dog 2016
Days Are Dogs – Palais de Tokyo (2016)

Born in Paris and currently based in New York City, visual artist Camille Henrot is one of the most talked-about contemporary artists. After representing France at the Venice Biennale in 2013 and winning the Silver Lion for best young artist with her work Grosse Fatigue, she has had a series of exhibitions in the most prestigious galleries and museums. She was given “carte blanche” in 2017 at the Palais de Tokyo, for her exhibition Days Are Dogs. Using the museum’s 6000m2, Henrot explores the arbitrary notion of a “week,” a human invention that shapes our habits, feelings, actions, and sensations. Each room was dedicated to a particular day and she examined our psychological response to each one; for example, the dread come on Monday mornings, the excitement of Friday nights, and bitter sweet Sundays.

#2 Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Njideka Akunyili Crosby collage
Njideka Akunyili Crosby in front of one of her collages

Born in 1983 in Enugu, Nigeria, Njideka Akunyili Crosby left her native country at the age of 16 to start a new life with family in the U.S.A. She explains that her early life experiences was characterised by the challenges of living between two cultures; the sentiment of being “split up” is an increasingly recurrent problematic in today’s globalised world. Therefore, the tension of her ethnic heritage and her experience of being a black immigrant woman living in the U.S. feeds into her work. For example, she enjoys working with elements of her native culture, such as wax prints (a type of fabric often used for creating clothing in Africa) to create scenes inspired by Western and American culture. As she describes it, she “negotiates the cultural terrain between my adopted home in America and my native Nigeria, creating collage and photo transfer-based paintings that expose the challenges of occupying these two worlds.”

#3. Genesis Belanger

Genesis Bellanger Body So Delicious sculptures
Genesis Bellanger and her installation Body So Delicious

The American artist Genesis Belanger uses sculpted porcelain and stoneware ceramics to recreate mundane items, from cigarettes to soda cans and fruits. She critiques feminine clichés by creating and distorting objects associated with femininity – high heels, lipstick, manicured hands. Through her work she denounces advertising’s hegemony and explores how successful it is at making us want things we don’t need using a carefully created visual language to manipulate our desires. For her, creating absurd objects is an effective way of starting a conversation about the absurdities that form the basis of the world we live in. Oscillating between surrealism, Pop Art, and hyperrealism, Belanger explores, with a tinge of humour, the psychological space associated with consumerism.

#4 Laure Prouvost

Laure Prouvost Ring, sing and drink for trespassing Palais de Tokyo
Ring, sing and drink for trespassing – Palais de Tokyo (Paris, 2018)

Born in France, Laure Prouvost moved to London to study visual arts at Central Saint Martins and before completing her studies at Goldsmith College. There, she explored the possibilities of working with videography. She was the first French artist to win the Turner Prize in 2013, one of the highest distinction in contemporary art, for her installation titled Wantee. Prouvost has been chosen to represent France at the Venice Biennale in 2019, an important honour and a way of cemeting the artist’s reputation after her exhibitions at prestigious galleries, including the Palais de Tokyo. Like Camille Henrot, she was granted “Carte blanche”. She created an immersive installation where sculptures, films, paintings, objects all played their part in an intriguing dialogue. Titled Ring, Sing and Drink for Trespassing, this neo-Garden of Eden celebrated walking down paths less travelled and going beyond one’s limit.

#5 Helen Marten

Helen Marten Plank Salad exhibition
Helen Marten in her exhibition Plank Salad

At only 34 years old, the British artist Helen Marten has conquered the art world. Represented by the prestigious Sadie Coles gallery and laureate of the Turner Prize, she mixes found objects with her own creations and works with a variety of mediums such as video, sculpture, and installation art. She defined her most recent exhibition Plank Salad at the Chisenhale Gallery as “triggered by thinking about this idea of what happens to image when substance goes on a diet.” Various consumables – from Starbuck cups to re-creation of donuts – were combined with surreal silhouettes of furniture.

#6 Baseera Khan

Baseera Khan Braidrage performance
Baseera Khan climbing up the wall part of her performance Braidrage

Baseera Khan is a New York-based conceptual artist who, as a queer Muslim woman in the United States, investigates intersectional feminism in her work. Through performance and installations, she mixes consumerism with spirituality to “visualise patterns and repetitions of exile and kinship shaped by economic, social, and political changes in local and global environments, with special interests in the decolonisation processes.” She had her first solo exhibition “iamuslima” in 2017 at Participant Inc., and has performed at the Whitney Museum of American Art and Queens Museum. Braidrage is one of her most innovative performances, and involves the artist climbing up a wall using rope made out of braided strands of hair. The climbing wall has 99 holds which are all made of dyed casts taken from different parts of the artist’s body. With this performance, she condemns the pressure capitalist societies put on women bodies.

#7 Sondra Perry

Sondra Perry’s Typhoon Coming On (2018)

Sondra Perry is an American interdisciplinary artist working with video, digital media and performance to create immersive environments that explore the experience of black American through the lens of technology and entangled identities. Her first solo exhibition in Europe at the Serpentine gallery titled Typhoon Coming On featured digital images, soundscapes and the artist’s 3D avatars questioning the current culture of efficiency. The artists also addresses the themes of black femininity and African American heritage, using her own experience as a starting point. Perry explains that she’s “interested in thinking about how blackness shifts, morphs, and embodies technology to combat oppression and surveillance throughout the diaspora. Blackness is agile.”

#8 Sara Cwynar

Sara Cwynar studio
Sara Cwynar in her studio

Born in 1985 in Canada, the Brooklyn-based artist Sara Gwynar represents and reconstructs existing images to examine nostalgia, kitsch, consumer desire, and the ways photographs circulate in society. Using collages and juxtapositions of vernacular and commercial images, she creates tableaus that reveal how visual strategies infiltrate our consciousness. From collaged stock photographs to deconstructed darkroom images, this artist strives to explore the impact of images on our perception of the world. Her work is held in the permanent collections of The Dallas Museum of Art; FOAM Photography Museum, Amsterdam; MoMA Library, New York; Soho House, Toronto; TD Bank Canada Collection, Toronto; and MoMA PS1, New York.

#9 Lucia Hierro

Lucia Hierro in her exhibition Mercado
Lucia Hierro in her exhibition Mercado

The Dominican American artist Lucia Hierro examines the relationships of language, taste, and culture through a broad range of techniques, including digital media, collage, and constructions. She blurs the line between sculpture and photography with her series Mercado and argues that artistic mediums should be able to interact with each other. Using everyday items, she manipulates pop culture symbols to tackle notions of exclusion and privilege. As an immigrant with Caribbean origins living in the United States, she uses her experiences to focus on the idea of cultural multiplicity and intersecting narratives within broader economic structures.

#10 Rachel Rossin

Rachel Rossin with VR headsets for her exhibitionPeak Performance
Rachel Rossin with VR headsets for her exhibitionPeak Performance

Rachel Rossin is a multimedia artist and, over the past few years, she has established herself as a pioneering artist working with virtual reality art. Born in Florida and based in New York, she is a self-taught programmer and creates algorithmic collages, or, as she calls them “dantesque underworlds.”  After putting on a Oculus headset, viewers are provided with the most immersive experience possible. The artist works around the idea of body, as it becomes an ambiguous digital entity with Virtual Reality. Along with her installations, she produces abstract paintings that then feed back into the immersive VR experience as she uses them as inspiration for her digital collages.

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