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Top 20 Female Performance Artists: Exploring the Pioneers of Transformative Art

5 februari - 2024
door Vincent Moleveld


The term 'performance art' denotes an artistic medium where the creation of art is realized through the actions of its participants, be it the artist, collaborators, or the audience. While the term gained widespread usage in the 1970s, its roots extend
back to the early 20th century, notably within the Dadaist and Futurist movements. During this period, artists employed live performances to provoke and challenge audiences.

Once considered a non-traditional art form, performance art has evolved into a recognized and respected medium within the visual arts. It boasts some of the most renowned artists of our time, each contributing to the transformative nature of this expressive and dynamic field.

In this exploration, we delve into the top 20 female performance artists who have left an indelible mark on the world of transformative art. From groundbreaking pioneers to contemporary visionaries, these artists have shaped the landscape of performance art, challenging conventions and pushing the boundaries of artistic expression. Join us on a journey through the impactful and revolutionary contributions of these remarkable women in the realm of performance art. 

Top 20 Female Performance Artists

1. Yayoi Kusama 1929 (Japan)

Yayoi Kusama, born on March 22, 1929, is a Japanese contemporary artist renowned for her contributions to sculpture and installation. Beyond these primary mediums, she actively engages in painting, performance, video art, fashion, poetry, fiction, and various other artistic expressions. Kusama's artistic foundation lies in conceptual art, incorporating elements of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism. Her body of work is imbued with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual themes.

Yayoi Kusama, Dots Obsession, 1997, Installation View @ Rice Gallery

Recognized as one of Japan's most significant contemporary artists, Yayoi Kusama holds the distinction of being the world's top-selling female artist and is acknowledged as the most successful living artist globally. Her influence extends to her contemporaries, with notable impact on artists like Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Kusama's multidimensional approach to art has left an enduring mark, solidifying her status as a pioneering figure in the international art scene.

2. Mona Hatoum 1952 (Lebanon)

Mona Hatoum's artistic repertoire encompasses a blend of the poetic and political, spanning installations, sculpture, video, photography, and works on paper.

Emerging in the 1980s, Hatoum initially delved into visceral video and performance art, focusing keenly on the human body. However, a shift occurred in the early 1990s, leading her to create expansive installations that immerse the viewer in a complex interplay of conflicting emotions—desire and revulsion, fear and fascination. Through her sculptures, Hatoum takes commonplace items like chairs, cots, and kitchen utensils and transforms them into entities that exude an air of foreignness, danger, or even menace. Notable installations such as "Corps étranger" (1994) and "Deep Throat" (1996) showcase her ability to defamiliarize the body by capturing the interior landscape using an endoscopic camera.

Mona Hatoum, A Pile of Bricks III, 2019 @ White Cube

3.Ana Mendieta 1948 (Cuba)

Ana Mendieta's artistic essence is succinctly captured in her words: "My art is the way I reestablish the bonds that unite me to the Universe. It is a return to the maternal source." Born in Havana in 1948, her prolific yet brief career spanned photography, film, video, drawing, sculpture, and site-specific installations. Exploring themes of exile, displacement, and a profound return to the landscape, her "siluetas" represented fleeting yet powerful imprints of her body on the environment. The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC, recently digitized over 100 of her moving image works, showcased globally, cementing her impactful legacy in the art world. Mendieta passed away in New York City in 1985.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Cosmetic Facial Variations), 1972 @ Ana Mendieta

4. Marina Abramovic 1946 (Serbia)

Born in 1946 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Marina Abramovic stands as a pivotal figure in contemporary art. Beginning her career in the early 1970s at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, she revolutionized performance as a visual art form, with the body as both subject and medium. Abramovic delves into the physical and mental boundaries, enduring pain and exhaustion in pursuit of emotional and spiritual transformation. Her focus lies in ritualizing everyday actions like lying, sitting, and dreaming, reflecting unique mental states. A pioneer alongside artists like Bruce Nauman and Vito Acconci, Abramovic continues to create enduring durational works, cementing her influence.

5. Otobong Nkanga 1974 (Belgium, Nigeria)

6. Yoko Ono 1933 (Japan)

7. Martha Rosler 1943 (United States)

8. Kapwani Kiwanga 1978 (Canada)

9. Sylvie Fleury 1961 (Switzerland)

10. Joan Jonas 1936 (United States)

11. Teresa Margolles 1963 (Mexico)

12. Rebecca Horn 1944 (Germany)

13. Chiharu Shiota 1972 (Japan)

14. Dora García 1965 (Spain)

15. Sanja Ivekovic 1949 (Croatia)

16. Carolee Schneemann 1939 (United States)

17. Ulla von Brandenburg 1974 (Germany)

18. Tabita Rezaire 1989 (France)

19. Kimsooja 1957 (South Korea)

20. Esther Ferrer 1937 (Spain)

Source: ArtFacts

Image header: Yayoi Kusama, Dots Obsession, 1997, Installation View @ Rice Gallery