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

Statistics about women in art can be discouraging; it is estimated that only 5% of works featured in major permanent collections worldwide were created by women. Thankfully, things are changing! 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 to the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Discover the newly established and emergent women artists who are shaking up an industry that has been maledominated 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 6,000m2, Henrot explored the arbitrary notion of the ‘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. Her early experiences were characterised by the challenges of living between two cultures. Indeed, the sentiment of being ‘split up’ is an increasingly recurrent problem in today’s globalised world. The tension of her ethnic heritage and her experience as a black immigrant woman 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 to create clothing in Africa). With these, she creates scenes inspired by Western and American culture. In doing so, 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”. Her work has cemented her as one of this century’s trailblazing women artists.

#3. Genesis Belanger

Genesis Bellanger, Body So Delicious installation, 2019
Genesis Bellanger, Body So Delicious installation, 2019

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, such as high heels, lipstick and manicured hands. Through her work she denounces advertising’s hegemony. She explores its efficacy in making us want things we don’t need, using a carefully created visual language to manipulate our desires. For her, creating absurd objects is a 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 before completing her studies at Goldsmiths. There, she explored the possibilities of working with videography. In 2013, she was the first French artist to win the Turner Prize, one of the highest distinctions in contemporary art, for her installation Wantee. Prouvost also represented France at the 2019 Venice Biennale. It was an important honour, which cemented the artist’s reputation after previous exhibitions at prestigious galleries including the Palais de Tokyo. Like Camille Henrot, she was granted Carte blanche there. She created an immersive installation where sculptures, films, paintings and objects contributed to 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, British artist Helen Marten has conquered the art world. Represented by the prestigious Sadie Coles gallery, she was the laureate of the Turner Prize. Marten mixes found objects with her own creations, and works with a variety of mediums including video, sculpture, and installations. Her most recent exhibition, Plank Salad at the Chisenhale Gallery, was “triggered by thinking about this idea of what happens to image when substance goes on a diet”. Various consumables – from Starbuck cups to re-made donuts – were combined with surreal silhouettes of furniture. Certainly one of our favourite women artists.

#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. As a queer Muslim woman in the United States, her work investigates intersectional feminism. Through performance and installations, she confronts opposing concepts of consumerism and spirituality. This enables her to “visualise patterns and repetitions of exile and kinship” that are shaped by economic, social, and political changes, both locally and globallly. She takes special interest in the process of decolonisation. She had her first solo exhibition iamuslima at Participant Inc. in 2017, and has performed at the Whitney Museum of American Art and Queens Museum. Braidrage is one of her most innovative performances. It involves the artist climbing up a wall using rope made out of braided strands of hair. The climbing wall has 99 holds; 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’s Typhoon Coming On, 2018

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

#8 Sara Cwynar

Sara Cwynar in her studio
Sara Cwynar in her studio

Born in 1985 in Canada, Brooklyn-based artist Sara Gwynar represents and reconstructs existing images to examine nostalgia, kitsch and consumer desire. She is also interested in the reach and power of photography in society. Using collages and juxtapositions of everyday and commercial images, she creates tableaus that reveal how visual strategies infiltrate our consciousness. From stock photo collages 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

Another one of our women artists under 40 who is leading the way: Lucia Hierro. The Dominican-American artist examines 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 tote bag series Mercado. To her, 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 exhibition Peak Performance

Rachel Rossin is a multimedia artist. Over the past few years, she has established herself as a pioneering female artist working in Virtual Reality. Born in Florida and based in New York, she is a self-taught programmer who creates algorithmic collages or, as she calls them, ‘dantesque underworlds’. After putting on an Oculus headset, viewers are provided with the most immersive experience possible. The artist works around the idea of a body, as it becomes an ambiguous digital entity with VR. Her abstract paintings inform and accompany her installations to create an immersive VR experience.

You might also like…