Established in 2018, Not Not Smiling, aims to amplify the voices of female identifying creatives and provide a platform for them to connect and share their knowledge, experience and work. What was once an event that took place once a year to mark International Women’s Day, Not Not Smiling has grown into an annual series of physical events, virtual gatherings and a blog series that provides a platform for even more voices worldwide.
In this series, we ask female-identifying creatives from around the world, a series of short questions covering topics including the meaning of creativity, inspiration, their processes and how we break the gender bias in our industry.
In this edition, we ask 'How can we start to 'break the bias' within the creative industry? How can your industry become more inclusive?'
Artist. London, United Kingdom.
Throughout my years of learning and studying art, I have noticed a need for female artists who create works that are women centred to be labelled as feminist work.
"Although there may be links to sociopolitical themes, it provides a biased scope for the viewer and can often overshadow the artists’ personal experiences. Some may argue that creating work centred around a woman’s experience is inherently feminist and that it provides the viewer with the lens to understand the motivation behind the work. I argue that once again we are limiting our scope of understanding the artists’ true intentions behind the works whilst also subcategorising them and possibly hindering the appeal to a wider audience. Granted this goes for those that are not actively making their works from a feminist standpoint. It speaks to the same argument whether women should be labelled female artists or not. On the one hand, we have a chance to provide women with a platform so as to raise awareness towards overlooked female artists. On the other hand, it limits women and their identity through preconceptions associated with the word(s) female/feminist. Perhaps the bias needs to be broken around whether female centred artwork is inherently unappealing for a wider audience or if it is the rejection of feminism that is at the forefront of the issue."
Currently living in Brighton, London raised digital artist, Ticiana Suli, has been honing her skillset on Procreate since 2015 where she first discovered the limitless possibilities of digital creation. She developed her love for abstract expressionism through the accessibility of a digital medium that allowed her to work anytime and anyplace on her iPad and iPhone. The app's accessibility provided her with the financial freedom to create whilst exploring deeper into her subconscious mind. Having used art as a therapeutic tool, Ticiana's work is a glimpse into the underpinnings of her mental health. Since graduating with a degree in Sociology, her work also explores socio-political concerns surrounding themes of capitalism, identity and control.
She currently volunteers for a young person's mental health organisation, Art in Mind, where young people are able to freely express themselves in a safe space through artist creation. Her journey as an artist is in hopes of reaching other people that have battled with their mental health, that may find inspiration and answers through her work.
Illustrator. Dublin, Ireland
I read in Mary Ann Sieghart’s article recently that if a woman signs her work, it lowers the value of it.
"I think the value and importance of women’s art should be taught from our first art history lesson in school. Female art shouldn’t be a small subsection of art history, nor should finding work by a female artist be a rare thrill in a museum. Maybe if women’s work is studied and respected from a young age, we can start to break that bias, and our signatures would instead raise the value of our work."
Cara Rose Dunne completed her degree in Fine Art Painting and History of Art in the National College of Art and Design, Dublin in 2016. She works mainly in paint and drawing. Cara also runs a design business called Cara Luna Designs, offering eco-friendly greeting cards, prints and personalised illustrations.
Portraiture and feminism have been a constant focus of Cara's work, with ideas surrounding the climate crisis influencing her practice also. Cara completed a Dublin City Council Artist's Residency in 2022, has exhibited in the RHA and RUA Annual Exhibitions, and twice been shortlisted for The National Gallery of Ireland's Zurich Portrait Competition. Her artwork can be seen in the music videos and record covers of the Dublin band Mongoose, of which she is a member.
Cara's written pieces have appeared in The Irish Times, The Journal and Hot Press Magazine. She has worked as Social Media Manager for the band Mongoose since 2014, and directed Green Party Councillor Daniel Dunne’s social media campaign in the run up to the Irish local elections 2019.
Executive Creative Director, Edelman Paris. France.
We've got to support and grow the diverse creative talent that joins the industry, not just get them in.
"This applies to all levels of seniority and experience. Diversity quotas and proof that more diverse workplaces have better business outcomes has meant we've gotten better at recruiting or attracting diverse talent, but once they are through the door, their point of views are largely ignored and so nothing changes. Even as a respected creative female leader I face daily (mainly unconscious) bias and discrimination. At every level it's exhausting to constantly go against the flow. We need to do whatever we can to support diverse talent so they can keep fighting and sharing their unique point of view - from encouraging them, to highlighting their achievements/suggestions/comments, to ensuring others stop and listen."
With the philosophy: “I like Ideas. Hopefully one of them will make the world better”, Lauren is the executive creative director of Edelman Paris. She is a published thought-leader, public speaker, columnist, international juror and unashamedly believes that advertising can change the world for the better.
Independent designer and design researcher, Design by Workshop. Reykjavík, Iceland
"There has been some discussion of gender bias, inclusion and representation in graphic design for decades now and while there has been progress, we still have a way to go. Historically, graphic design has revered the contributions of individual designers who are largely male and of European heritage. Critically revisiting our history to acknowledge a richer spectrum of voices and expressions is an important step towards a more inclusive industry. We need to continue to call for awareness, visibility and attribution of diverse voices in graphic design and the recognition of contributions which have historically gone unacknowledged. Graphic design can pursue a more inclusive makeup by recognising the historical and contemporary contributions of female-identifying designers as well as those of different races and ethnicities, classes and socio-economic status, cultures, sexual orientations, gender identities, age groups and disability status."
Designers need to be critical of who is gate-keeping the industry. We need to be asking ourselves who is making decisions about the creatives and work that is worthy of being revered. Who runs the industry’s professional organisations, sits on panels, committees and competition juries? Who are in leadership positions within the industry? Who is developing the curriculum for design students? Designers need to demand that these gatekeepers — those who speak for the industry — are inclusive.
"There also needs to be a systemic and authentic commitment to change from the industry. Initiatives such as the Diversity in Design Collaborative — initiated by Herman Miller group and joined by founding members, including Adobe and Pentagram — are a step in the right direction for meaningful, impactful change to foster greater inclusion in the industry. I’d like to see similar initiatives high on the priority of industry associations with the aim to increase diversity through improved support, awareness and advocacy, access and opportunities."
Erin is an independent visual communication designer and design researcher. She has a PhD in design, focussing on Emigre magazine, design archives and collections, data visualisation and expanded visualisation practices. Her creative practice includes work in publishing and editorial design, branding, information design and visualisation. Originally from Sydney, Erin is now based in Reykjavík
Independent artist. New York, United States.
"When I look back at the great painters that lived long before us, it’s no coincidence the majority of them are men. Although some of my favourite artists are women, such as Frida Khalo, Jenny Saville, and Georgia O’Keefe, an overwhelming number of successful and famous artists are men. Our society favoured male artists because the institutes constituting what art was and was not worthy of showing, were men.
However, I do believe that times are changing and that women in the art world are comparing themselves to their male counterparts less. Rather, as female artists we are learning from the artists of our past, both male and female. We’re learning from their hardships, their struggles, their triumphs, and navigating the industry today with a better understanding."
So I think ‘breaking the bias’ within the creative industry starts with supporting one another, despite our sex or gender. We are already seeing major brands becoming more inclusive. Which is great. Now, we can all do our part in encouraging both brands and individuals to think beyond gender, race. and ethnicity. To encourage inclusivity within the creative industry starts with putting aside our preconceived notions and allowing the art to speak for itself.
Tina is a self-taught independent artist living and working in New York City. Originally born in Tehran, Iran, she moved to Los Angeles at the age of six. Her culture and background heavily influence the way she perceive the worlds. Her work varies from abstract portraits to minimalist drawings and paintings. She's interested in distorting the human figure via shape, colour, and texture that is emotionally driven.
Through Not Not Smiling, we have worked with a number of charities local to each of our offices that support and uplift women. This year, we are delighted to be supporting:
Young Women’s Trust in London who are working to achieve economic justice for young women.
Hour Children, a leading provider of services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in New York State.
Women’s and Girl’s Emergency Centre (WAGEC) is a feminist, grassroots organisation that supports women and families in crisis and advocated for social change in the community. They are based in Redfern, Sydney and work on the lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation.
We will be sharing more on each of the Charities across our blog and social channels soon. Please be sure to check them out and support their work if you can.