When Ukraine-born Svitlana Martynjuk set out to establish herself as an artist in the US, she was shocked to discover the serious under-representation of women in the American and global art scene. This triggered her to create a platform and community called All SHE Makes, which now provides hundreds of women artists the resources and opportunities to develop and grow commercially.
Born and raised in Rivne, a city in western Ukraine, Svitlana was 16 when she went to the US on a student-exchange programme. “No one prepared me for the culture shock,” she says.
“The climate, the way people lived their lives, dependence on vehicles, lack of city-like living, the inability to have the same opportunities as other people due to visa restrictions, and constantly being singled out and having my intelligence questioned simply due to being an immigrant from Eastern Europe – this put me in survival mode for years.”
Because of these difficulties, Svitlana took longer than usual to complete college. A bad relationship that ended with her in therapy also led her to take up clinical psychology in her undergrad. Soon after, she began working on her art career.
A move from Texas to Michigan along with her partner gave Svitlana everything she needed at the time. “The Michigan climate is identical to Ukraine, and the area we live in resembles city living, which I missed so much,” she narrates, sharing that she connected with a local art community and participated in art events for the first time in her life.
After spending more time studying art history, Svitlana realised that local women artists only had limited avenues to show their work. “Throughout history and in today’s world, women artists remain underrepresented. Only 13.7 percent of living artists in major US museums and galleries are women. This doesn’t make any sense,” she says.
Svitlana started looking into the gender disparities and was dismayed to realise there wasn’t enough activism about it. “Being an artist, I wanted to see if there was a way that I could contribute to making a difference. My idea for All SHE Makes was born from a desire to create an international directory and a global access to quality art by women artists, because the most common question I got was ‘where do you find artists?’,” she says.
Launched on January 1, 2020, All SHE Makes grew during the Covid pandemic. Svitlana believes it is important to emphasise the lack of women’s representation in the art circuit.
“We cannot change anything if we don’t highlight the main issue or the people it affects. We thought art history included all artists, but it turns out this couldn’t be further from the truth. We trust museums to give us the correct history, but that’s not the reality when the artists shown are 80 percent white male,” she says.
Svitlana’s study of psychology informed her further about art and art practices. “Having a huge fascination for the human mind keeps me perpetually excited about art,” says the artist and entrepreneur, who believes there are no limits to the way people use art, and each story is equally inspiring. “There are as many perspectives as there are people,” she says.
Now as lockdown restrictions have eased and in-person events are on the horizon, her goal with All SHE Makes remains the same – increasing visibility for women artists. “We may use different tools and avenues for doing that, but the main idea is always bringing attention to the incredible achievements of women artists who are constantly overlooked,” she explains.
All SHE Makes helps artists build their CV by offering monetary support in form of scholarships, community support via networking and art critique events, visibility via art exhibits, and publishing opportunities through the All SHE Makes art magazine.
“We try to avoid concentrating so much on the importance of being a full-time artist, because for some that may not even be the goal,” she says. “Our annual scholarship is available to all directory artists, and artists can use it for anything from babysitting costs to project starters.”
Indian artists too have made it to All SHE Makes, including Charuka Arora, Pallavi Singh, Farheen Fatima and Niha Nathersa. “Charuka is an incredible human exploring her own artistic journey. She is passionate about taking creativity and arts to the masses and in creating meaningful communities. Pallavi’s work is exploring the grooming culture amongst Indian men, which is showing a change from the traditional alpha male,” explains Svitlana.
She goes on: “Farheen is a self-taught photographer and that’s why her process is experimental. Niha is artist and art therapist. She says she processes the goings-on in her life through her painting; it is meditative and therapeutic for her.”
Svitlana believes women artists deserve and “are owed” a premier place in museums, galleries, and commercial settings. “Women artists graduate with MFA degrees at higher rates than men, but we do not see that play out in the art market. When you go shopping for art or visiting galleries and museums, take a note how many of the artists are women,” she says.
She also asserts that there are various income streams available to women artists, such as fine-art licensing, limited-edition prints, taking part in public-art projects such as murals, and taking art workshops online.
“Artists are more accepting of the notion that an art career is whatever you make of it,” she says. “There is no right or wrong anymore. We all create our own journey with what we have.”
Published in eShe’s July-August 2021 issue