From a young age, I had always taken a keen interest in art and creating, but whenever asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, those enquiring were always met with an answer deemed more sensible than ‘an artist’. It would seem that from a young age, we are taught to distinguish aspiration from reverie, and the light of reaching for the stars begins to dim. But why should we settle for those limits imposed onto us? Why stop believing in ourselves just because someone else failed to see our potential? Women in particular face so many biases, and the world often sets us up to fail; yet, defiantly, we never do.
Adversity often begins at home. That’s not the usual adage, but it’s true. When I call my grandparents, even three years into my art career, I’m often met with inquests as to when I’m going back to university or my ‘failed’ astrophysics career. By this, I mean I used to have a keen interest in astrophysics but, as teenagers do, lost interest in the subject as I embraced adolescence. Even a local dog walker once made me promise him that I would complete a degree when he learned of my position - and to ease the awkwardness of this tenuous, canine-linked exchange, I politely agreed. Since then, I have vowed to myself a few things:
1) Never engage in vulnerable conversation with dog walkers.
2) Never make a promise to a man who has absolutely zero importance in your life.
3) Never, ever agree to something politely for the sake of being nice.
A lot of these doubts and underestimations wear the guise of caring nature. The people who discourage you from making difficult choices are protecting you under false pretences; they merely underestimate your capabilities to deal with difficult situations. You can do the hard things.
Fortunately, though, the world is changing. Slowly, perhaps - but changing regardless. Women are seeing far more victories than ever before. Last year alone, two countries eliminated the tax on tampons, child marriage was criminalised in several states and countries, more female presidents and prime ministers were elected than ever before, and transgender women gained legal gender recognition in even developing countries. Changes like these are reflected wider in society, as individuals become more tolerant and understanding of the world around them.
I experienced this firsthand as people finally recognised my role as an artist and took me seriously. There are so many stereotypes about the art world, spanning the likes of education, class, heritage, sexuality and gender - the majority of which I flout. To be recognised for what I am is an internal battle as much as it is external, as these restrictions and preconceptions cast upon me lead to an unrelenting bout of imposter syndrome for the longest time. As with most things, though, as I began to really back myself as an artist, others did too.
Last year, my artwork sold in over twelve different countries, featured in a documentary, aided the dissertations of three other women, and even got picked up to promote products of a well-known brand. After battling with imposter syndrome, this felt like such an achievement - but I know now that this all fell into place after I truly began to believe in myself. Now, this doesn’t mean that all successes have to begin with self-belief, but they can result in it, and that’s an immensely powerful weapon towards the doubts that hold you back in the first place.
It takes enormous strength to turn your vulnerability into art. I am infinitely inspired by those who can - women like Tracey Emin, who can take pain and create something striking, something real, and something universally understood by those that share her experiences. Emin is not afraid to break the bias, as, with everything she creates, she loosens the taboo around difficult topics such as abortion, sexual assault, and mental illness. To be so unabashedly honest and authentic is admirable for any woman, and her work is the perfect example of how art can transcend language by means of expression. Perhaps my favourite thing, though, is through all of her controversial pieces and the successes they have brought her, she continues to dismantle the stereotype every single day just by being herself.
By continuing my craft, I, in turn, continue to break the bias. In spite of everyone who has ever doubted me, or my abilities, or has thought ‘it’s possible, but it’s unwise’, I persist in the career and the life that I want for myself. I will not be a convenient option. I will make myself inconvenient and worth fighting for before I am ever chosen out of necessity. I do not exist to check a box on an equality form, or to fill a silence, or to please anyone else. Along the way, if I can inspire another woman to follow her aspirations, it would be an absolute privilege. Every time a woman is true to herself, the world gets a little brighter and a little stronger.