In 2011, Alfredo Jaar presented a modest exhibition, Three Women, at Paris’s Galerie Kamel Mennour. The show included three tiny photographs illuminated by six large paparazzi-like tripods. The contrast in scale was meant to draw attention to the fact that the subjects—all women activists with towering achievements—had been overlooked.
“On one hand, I recognize their invisibility, and at the same time I want to give them visibility,” Jaar told artnet News. “That is why there’s a huge amount of attention from the light.”
Little did he know, at the time, what he was getting into. In the years since, Jaar has been on a quiet quest to expand the series, surveying news reports for worthy new additions and tracking down women to photograph on his travels.
The series spotlights inspirational professionals around the world, from human rights lawyers to investigative journalists to activists against genital mutilation. Each image is accompanied by a brief text about the woman’s accomplishments and a map with a marker noting her geographic location.
“I spend the first two hours of my day every day looking at the news. All my work is a response to real life events—I do not do anything out of my imagination,” Jaar said. “In all my daily research, I encountered these extraordinary stories of extraordinary women doing extraordinary work. I thought I should do something about it because so few people are informed about them.”
After Jaar completed Three Women—which paid homage to Mozambican politician and humanitarian Graça Machel, Indian cooperative organizer Ela Bhatt, and Burmese politician and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi—he began looking into others whose work deserved similar recognition.
“Slowly I realized this was a never-ending project,” Jaar explained. “We started doing research in the studio and we accumulated an extraordinary amount of files about different women working around the world and changing the world.”
For the artist, it was difficult to accept that such accomplished women were not getting the recognition they deserve. “We are still in such a macho world; it’s just unbelievable,” Jaar said.
During the first few years he worked on the project, Jaar was mostly working from press clippings. In fact, until 2014, he had met only one of his subjects: Vandana Shiva, the Indian environmental activist and scholar, at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992.
“Some of [the subjects] are actually in prison, or they’re impossible to reach,” Jaar said. “There are no contacts for them.”
As the project grew, Jaar presented it again, at Norway’s SKMU Sørlandets Kunstmuseum in 2014 with a new group of 22 Women. That brings the current total to 25 profiled women—but there are many others in the works.
The goal, eventually, is to profile 100 women, although it might take a while to track them down—so expect to see a new edition well before then.
“I like numbers, and I wouldn’t do a show with just any random number,” said Jaar, who listed 56 as possibility, but admitted to disliking 45. “I will try to reach a number I like.… I don’t think I will get to 100 very soon.”
See more photos of the project below.
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