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The Harn’s 'HERstory' highlights female artists in a male-dominated space

Attendees gather within the auditorium for India Brooks’ “Archi-Sculpture” exhibit. (Camille Hagins/WUFT News)
Attendees gather within the auditorium for India Brooks’ “Archi-Sculpture” exhibit. (Camille Hagins/WUFT News)

The wage gap does not simply affect office jobs.

Historically, the art world has been recognized for more of its Picassos and Van Goghs than its Kahlos. Even now, female artists struggle to gain a foothold, with many leading art museums across the country failing to present collections representative of the public. In 2019, one study audited 18 major U.S. art museums and identified that only 13% of artists named across the collections identified as female — even fewer women of color.

Countering the current art climate, the Harn Museum of Art opened its doors Thursday night for an after-hours event: "HERstory." With music, conversation and tours highlighting female artists, the Harn celebrated Women’s History Month by providing a platform to its many underrepresented creators.

It was an emotional night for some attendees, with a variety of works to appreciate from paintings and photography to pottery and even tapestries.

“The exhibits are beautiful. There was one piece in the Florida Impressionism display that took my breath away. It was St. Augustine," said Josette Crabill, 19. "I started to cry a little bit. It was beautiful."

Within the auditorium, fairy lights gleamed like stars overhead guests wandering from piece to piece within India Brooks’ Archi-Sculpture exhibit. Live violin and piano music accompanied the art as Brooks meditated silently among the crowd only to arise — to the shock of the audience — from her meditation pod thirty minutes into the event.

“It was very interesting. We were wondering how she could stay still that whole time,” said Britney Wood, 42.

This student project captured the value of meditation and presented conceptual designs for architecture representing femininity, nature and self-reflection. Toward the end of the hour, attendees gathered in the rotunda for a celebration of musical artistry.

Local musician Nolia Joy performed for dozens with acoustic guitar and vocals echoing in the open chamber. With sweet melodies trickling through crowd, Joy sang songs about friendship and love that “makes her feel like a firefly.”

As the performance came to a close, the crowd dispersed to wander the many exhibits alone or with an Art Blast tour guide. From paintings to tapestries to pottery, attendees wandered, absorbing the sights with special attention to the women who created the works.

“There is a lot of poor representation (of female artists) sometimes. I think that exhibits like this — especially during Women’s History Month — are really important to showcase women in art,” said Kayla Docteur, first-year public relations major at UF.

A 2019 study by In Other Words and artnet news highlighted the lack of value placed on women’s art. Within $196.6 million spent on artwork at auctions, only $4 billion was spent on women’s works — a stark 2% of sales. That same article identified that 1 in 9 pieces acquired by museums from 2008 to 2019 was created by female artists. This overwhelming minority of allocations is reflective of a failure to uplift female artists within the art world.

This Museum Nights event took special care to highlight female artists of color, a group that experiences a particularly high disparity in representation. The special exhibit “She/Her/Hers: Women in the Arts of China,” specifically examines the gender roles of Chinese women through the artwork while raising questions of what has changed or still persists today.

Overall, the event combatted the many challenges female artists have faced — and still face today — through an immersive experience welcoming to art lovers of all ages. Families, couples and friends alike engaged with one another, enjoying the many beautiful and thought-provoking works the Harn offered.

Camille is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing