Female artists are underrepresented and misrepresented. According to The Galley Tally, only 25-35% of women are represented by commercial galleries. In music, only 9.3% of Grammy nominees from 2013 and 2018 were women according to the Recording Studio. And when you add racial diversity to the mix, the story gets even dimmer. Female perspectives are missing in culture despite the form being such fan favorite and lasting creative inspiration.
Many female artists today are working to change those statistics and bring women’s issues to the foreground. From body positivity and mental health to female sexuality and the world as we know it, these five female artists are creating change by speaking their truths, demanding more from business partners and pushing back on the status quo. By refusing to compromise their beliefs and values, they are setting examples for other female artists while forcing brands, companies and fans to rethink how they engage, leverage and consume today’s talent.
From Polly Nor’s diabolical representations of females to Princess Nokia’s no-holds-barred approach to intersectionality, and Dounia and Barbie Ferreira’s fierce body positivity to Melodie Perrault’s unapologetic sexual fantasies, these female artists are pushing culture to embrace many aspects of femininity previously shunned in mainstream media. If you don’t know these game-changing female artists, get to know them.
Polly Nor is an illustrator based in London. Her work represents women in ways commonly deemed inappropriate by culture, men, and mainstream media. Nor is best known for her dark and satirical drawings of women and their demons. Often evoking devil imagery while portraying women in private moments, she subverts the notion that women should behave in ways deemed appropriate by cultural norms.
Her vignettes show the trademark demon-female masturbating in bed, laptop by her side, making love with another devilish creature and unabashedly kissing her own reflection in a mirror. It’s in these rarely shared visuals that Nor presents an honest view of modern female life. Her unique perspective has garnered her many global fans and followers, so much so that Gucci commissioned Nor to create art for the brand as part of “That Feeling When Gucci,” a digital art project launching a line new of Gucci watches.
Princess Nokia, real name Destiny Frasqueri, is a rapper, poet, activist, and feminist based in New York City. Nokia has released three mixtapes and one studio album in the last four years, all while co-founding and running Smart Girl Club. In 2013, she and Milah Libin started the radio podcast and network to create a safe space for women and other like-minded female artists to discuss ideas and topics ranging from poetry, art, and womanhood. Smart Girl Club also holds creative workshops and has raised funds for a variety of causes, like the Mexican Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
One of the most commercially successful female artists today, Princess Nokia has worked with Maybelline, fashion video network M2M.tv and clothing brand Desigual to share her powerful intersectional feminism far and wide. In the Desigual video series for the Women’s March, for example, she represents herself as a rapper, director, visual artist, photographer and journalist. A multidimensional, non-conforming artist, Princess Nokia never puts herself in a box and encourages other women to do the same.
Melodie Perrault is a tattooer and artist based in Montreal. Perrault’s work focuses on how she views the world around her. Through detailed line work and tattooing, she creates new worlds using imagery of women, devils and animals. In her pieces, you’ll see heavy themes of sexual liberation and female enjoyment. Her embrace of the oft-called “unpretty” components of straight womanhood is both playful and honest which makes it all the more compelling.
Perrault unapologetically shows women enjoying men’s genitalia and often paints pictures of pure sexual ecstasy. In a world where women are still fighting the government for control over their own bodies, her embrace of women – within this specific gender and sexual orientation value – as they are is bold. By holding the idea that sex is for enjoyment over reproduction and exploration is healthy rather than shameful, Perrault continues to push sexual liberation forward.
Barbie Ferreira is a model, actor and activist based in New York City and represented by Wilhelmina. You may know Ferreira from her hilarious and outspoken Instagram account @barbieknox or from the #AerieREAL viral campaign with American Eagle where the model appeared in a YouTube video with absolutely no retouching—something Ferreira feels and speaks very strongly about.
Aside from speaking truth to power through her campaigns and social media, Ferreira recently starred in a new show for Vice entitled “How to Behave.” In the series, she flips conventional knowledge on its head, showing it’s okay to be imperfect and offbeat. Her fearless commitment to being body proud, multi-talented and carefree inspires her fans and followers to live their truths in their own skin without dimming their light.
Dounia is an NYC-based Moroccan rapper and activist for WoC and women of all shapes and sizes. Dounia not only writes and performs her own work; she produces, directs and edits her music videos. She is multidimensional artist changing the music marketing game. Despite what trolls may say online, she consistently puts herself out there and celebrates who she is without concern for any negative feedback. Her portrayed strength shows other women and female artists how to rise above by actually rising above herself.
She inspires girls who are too frequently subjected to unattainable standards of perfection via glossy magazines and culture. Much of the time, Dounia styles her own photo-shoots and music videos, which is rare in today’s carefully constructed visual world; she wholly controls how she wants to look and the messages she conveys. Dounia uses her platform to bring attention to political issues like net neutrality and immigration, and to environmental issues like the Dakota Access Pipeline. Through no accident, Dounia advocates for inclusion and education.
Although it may seem in the midst of the #MeToo movement, artists everywhere are pushing boundaries for female inclusion, it actually requires much more than wearing a white rose to the Grammys or a pin to the Oscars. This arduous, long-winding road is paved with constant impact created by artists focusing on changing culture every day. These women have been dedicated to their causes in the dark, long before the moment became a media darling. Female artists like Polly Nor, Princess Nokia, Melodie Perrault, Barbie Ferreira and Dounia along with many before them, are creating change in ways most powerfully available to them, and it’s working.
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