It’s International Women’s Day, #IWD2015!

It’s a day to recognize and to celebrate what has been achieved in terms of women rights. It’s also a day to look at the current state and to focus on the remaining challenges that have to be mastered to achieve gender equality in all aspects of our lives. There is a legal dimension, and there is the cultural dimension, a reality of women who inspire, who lead and who transform. In past times and the present.

Before I will introduce you to a few women who inspired my life; let’s just look at one legal issue, the right of women to vote. For many of us, women’s suffrage already existed when we were born. Only the older generations may remember the tremendous fights that were necessary to gain the right to vote. It’s absolutely worth your time to have a look at this timetable of women’s suffrage. Look at the huge timespan from the 18th century up to the 20th century which was necessary in so many countries to achieve a right that is considered to be self-evident for many of us. Did you know that women got the right to vote in Germany in 1918, but in France only in 1944, in Italy in 1946 and in Greece in 1952? The UK established selected women’s suffrage in 1918 until women got the same rights as men in 1928. Some US states were early adopters, and on a federal level women’s suffrage was achieved in 1920. Women’s suffrage is still an issue in the 21st century: Oman in 2003, United Arab Emirates in 2006 and Saudi Arab in 2015.

There are always two sides of the same coin. One is the legal part as mentioned in the example above; the other one is women’s cultural reality, women’s lives. The cultural dimension goes way beyond the example I used here. Both realities make me aware that there is no reason to take anything for granted.

Apart from legal rights and constitutions, there have always been courageous women who led by example and how transformed entire eras.

In part one of the little series; we go back to the Baroque era.

Think of baroque painters. Which name comes to your mind? Probably Caravaggio considered as one of the most important Baroque painters and influencers. But did you ever hear about Artemisia Gentileschi? Maybe yes, maybe not. I admit, I didn’t know her name since I had the pleasure to be part of a guided tour at the MET – Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last December. The tour’s purpose was to guide our team through different eras of art, from the first painters up to the impressionists. Our focus was to understand the triggers, for instance in society, church, or around methods and techniques, which changed the way of painting, which changed art in each era. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1656), was an Italian Baroque painter. “Today she is considered one of the most accomplished painters of the generation following that of Caravaggio. In an era when women painters were not easily accepted by the artistic community or patrons, she was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence” (Wikipedia).

But there is much more in Artemisia’s life that makes her a heroine for me.

Artemisia’s lost her mother at age 12. Since then, she was mostly surrounded by men. She learned how to paint from her father, painter Orazio Gentileschi. At age 17, she was raped by a friend of her father, painter Agostino Tassi. To make a long story short, she had to go through an ensuing seven-month trial. Artemisia’s father pressed charges against Tassi because he had taken Artemisia’s virginity. During the trial, Artemisia was subjected to a gynecological examination and torture using thumbscrews to verify her testimony. At the end of the trial, Tassi was sentenced to imprisonment for one year, although he never served the time. Imagine for a moment how this 17-year-old girl could have felt at this time…

Artemisia lived in many different places in Italy, in Vienna and England. Wikipedia sums it up: “[She] was an artist who fought with determination—using the weapon of personality and of the artistic qualities—against the prejudices expressed against women painters; being able to introduce herself productively in the circle of the most respected painters of her time, embracing a series of pictorial genres that probably were more ample and varied than her paintings suggest.”

What makes Artemisia’s work as a painter so important is that 94% of her art featured women as protagonists or equal to men. Imagine the Baroque era. Doing so was more than a revolution. Many of the characters she painted intentionally lacked the stereotypical “feminine” traits — sensitivity, timidness, and weakness. The opposite was the case, these characters were brave, courageous, rebellious, and powerful personalities. Apparently, she processed the rape and the related challenges in her life with creating outstanding art. And she seemed to be well aware of how differently women and female artists were viewed by men. That could explain why her works at the beginning of her career were so bold and defiant.

Artemisia was the linchpin of the Baroque era. She used bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the current state.

Here is what I love about Artemisia and what truly inspired me: She was a courageous and strong women, she was a highly creative artist, and she became one of the most important Baroque painters. She had to go through a lot of suffering and even more challenges in her life. But she always led by example, she processed her challenges while creating outstanding art. If a certain place didn’t work any longer for her art, she changed the situation, and she moved to another place. In parallel, she had to raise her daughter, most of the time as a single Mother.

Last but not least, she invented the “women artist” and she was a role model for her generation. And for me, she still is a role model for women in our world. She is a role model for a linchpin, which is a brave, passionate, creative person who follows a bold vision and leads by example.

Find your life purpose and walk your journey. Lead by example, make your vulnerability a creative strength and make sure that your journey is a benefit to all.

Happy #IWD2015!

Stay tuned, the second part is already in the making!