Celebrating International Women’s Day

Women that have inspired Keith Brymer Jones personally and as an artist

Women have traditionally been relegated to second place in history. After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. The same day was adopted years later by the United Nations as International Women’s Day.

Today, International Women’s Day is a public holiday in some countries and largely ignored elsewhere. In some places, it is a day of protest; in others, it is a day that celebrates womanhood.

The importance and contribution from women to society and the arts has been widely disregarded so coinciding with International Women’s Day, and to emphasise the importance of women, we asked Keith what women have inspired him and his art, and why.

Lucie Rie

KBJ: This woman is inspirational to me as she came to this country as a refugee from Austria, just before World War II. Throughout her life she pursued her passion for pottery/ceramics and was incredibly successful, not only aesthetically, but renowned in the art world for her creative endeavours. Her work consisted of hand-thrown pots, bottles and bowl forms, known for their modernistic approach and bright colours. I once had the pleasure and honour of meeting her in Albion Mews where her home and studio was. Her work was instrumental in discovering my own passion for ceramics.

Siouxsie Sioux

KBJ: This woman is the lead singer of the band ‘Siouxsie and the Banshees’, which became one of the most enduring punk rock bands of all time. This was one of the first major punk bands I saw when I was young. She exuded confidence, strength, and an incredibly unique singing voice. She was completely and utterly original to me. Being a woman in the mid-’70s to mid-’80s music scene took a lot of confidence and a real sense of who one was. Particularly when you did not follow the stereotypes of having to be ‘typically’ pretty to appease the music business.

Kate Bush 

KBJ: She is another female singer with a very rare voice, who managed to successfully change and transform her career, throughout the years. This woman is inspirational, as she took great artistic control in her music, not afraid to explore emotion through her voice and dance. I could listen to her all day reciting the telephone directory, and let’s face it, she has almost done that in a few of her songs.

Barbara Hepworth

KBJ: Born in 1903, this woman is one of the few female artists to transcend country borders, becoming one of the leading figures for sculpture in the international art scene. Her work shows remarkable achievement, especially given the constraints women endured at the time, making her a great example for an inspiring woman.

Other inspirational women

As women being part of Keith’s team, we decided to think about women that inspire us too. It was difficult to only name a few, as there are so many women that have played a key role in shaping our future. However, we narrowed it down and chose women that are a great source of inspiration in our work and our lives:

Lily Elbe

She was a Danish painter and a transgender woman. She became female when she underwent the world’s first documented gender-reassignment surgery. Born as Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener, she lived almost her whole life as a man. She studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, where she met her future wife and painted Post-Impressionistic landscapes in soft palettes. Unfortunately, she died aged 48 due to complications in her fourth or fifth reassignment surgery. She helped women that didn’t fit the social ‘norm’ to feel accepted, and encouraged women to be confident in their decisions, despite what others may think.

Coco Chanel

French designer and businesswoman, she was inspirational for redesigning women’s wardrobes from confining corseted dresses. She introduced the little black dress, at a time where black was only used for mourning, making it into a timeless classic that is still used today. Yet, her most extreme change was the Chanel suit, incorporating men’s fashion into her garments, emphasising the importance of comfort for women, whilst abolishing outdated womanising ideals.

Frida Kahlo

She was a Mexican painter, most famous for her self-portraits and was recognised as a feminist icon. She endured a lot of pain, physically and emotionally in her short life, after a bus accident almost destroyed her body. This resulted in her not being able to have children, leading her to have several miscarriages. This is when she began to paint as a way of escapism, exploring herself emotionally and spiritually, through good and bad. Her health was extremely poor, resulting in her having numerous operations and visits to the hospital. She is a great example for women as she lived her life to the fullest, despite her immense pain and suffering. She was recognised highly in the art world and showed a great example of strength

Malala Yousafzai

She is a Pakistani activist for female education. She challenged the Taliban at a young age and demanded for girls to be allowed to have an education. When she was only 16 years of age she spoke at the United Nations, expressing the importance of education and women’s rights, urging leaders to change their policies. Due to her activism, she was shot in the head by the Taliban and survived, and became the youngest woman ever to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. She is extremely inspirational through her determinism and courage to not let terrorists change women’s aims and ambitions.

Harriet Tubman

She was born a slave and had a desire for justice from a young age. At age 12 she saved a slave being beaten with a heavyweight by stepping between the slave and the overseer, consequently breaking her skull, leading to headaches and narcolepsy for the rest of her life. She was later a conductor for The Underground Railroad, a lifeline for slaves escaping freedom, earning the nickname ‘Moses’ after the prophet Moses in the Bible, who led his people to freedom. She led 70 slaves to freedom and instructed dozens others on how to escape on their own. When the civil war broke out she found new ways to tackle slavery, using her knowledge of herbal medicine to treat slaves and soldiers. Schools and museums still bear her name and her story has been revisited in books, films and documentaries.

Marie Stopes

She was one of the first female members of the science faculty at Manchester University. Her views were independent at the time and she didn’t feel compelled to stay with a man, prompting two famous books, ‘Married Love’ and ‘Wise Parenthood’ that were widely criticised. She sparked major interest in women, encouraging her to open the first family planning clinic in North London. There is a UK registered charity with her name, which helps families and women around the world to access better birth control methods.

Rosa Parks

She became active in the Civil Rights Movement at an early age, but is best known for being arrested for not giving up her seat for a white person. The Montgomery City required that all public transport should be segregated. During Rosa’s journey when the bus began to fill with white passengers, the driver asked four black passengers to give up their seats. Three of the passengers complied but Rosa refused and remained seated, leading to her arrest. She explained that her refusal wasn’t because she was physically tired, but that she was tired of giving in. Her resistance set in one of the largest social movements in history, The Montgomery Bus Boycott. This eventually led to the integration of public transportation in Montgomery. She is inspirational for her courage and contribution to black people’s freedom and has received many awards for her efforts.

These are only a few examples we chose out of the many women that have changed women’s lives for the better. They fought hard for our independence, rights, and education, highlighted the importance of why men and women should be considered equal in rights.

Although we probably take a lot of it for granted, we feel fortunate that we live in a time and place where women’s rights and diversity have significantly improved. There is room for plenty of improvement and the fight is still one, however these women, and many others set the bases for us to keep moving in the right direction. We’d love to hear your thoughts too! Which women inspire and motivate you?