Visual arts
Public debate

Camille Morineau

The exhibition must attract people, but also invite them to sit down, to spend time there, to watch the films, listen to the podcasts, to enter this unknown history of women artists.

Camille Morineau is a heritage curator and art historian specialising in women artists. In 2014, she co-founded the AWARE (Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions) association, which aims to make 19th and 20th century women artists visible by producing and distributing content. For the Generation Equality Forum, organised by UN Women and culminating in Paris from 30 June to 2 July having been launched in Mexico City last March, AWARE has joined forces with designer Matali Crasset to create the documentary exhibition Be AWARE. A History of Women Artists.

Updated on 28/06/2021

5 min

Camille Morineau
© Valerie Archeno

You co-founded AWARE in 2014. What were the motivations behind this project?

I did part of my studies in the United States (Williams College, Mass) where I discovered gender studies. Gender Studies taught me to question this very "gendered" point of view which consists of thinking that women are naturally absent from creation. My desire to create AWARE started from an intuition, confirmed in 2009 during the exhibition elles@centrepompidou, Artistes femmes dans les collections du Musée national d'art moderne. The intuition was that there are a lot of important female artists and that the only problem is finding information about them. So I wanted to create a tool for finding this information and sharing it at the same time via a website. It's important to put women's work into context through information written by specialists that is verified, edited, serious and attributed. As soon as the information is available, it creates a circuit of recognition that benefits all women artists. It's a virtuous circle!


Why did you launch the AWARE Prize?  

At the time of the elles@centrepompidou exhibition, I looked at awards in general and realised that the vast majority of art prizes, in all fields, were given to men. This has changed a lot in recent years, but for a long time, even for centuries, it was only men who were awarded prizes. I wanted to solve this problem by creating a prize for women only. These days it is less of an issue, because awards given to young artists are very attentive to parity and diversity in general. It is likely that the AWARE Prize will evolve, because it is less legitimate in 2021 than it was seven years ago.


You have also created the AWARE Outstanding Merit Prize, what is that? 

The AWARE Outstanding Merit Prize allows us to reward women who have worked in France or who have strong links with France but who have not yet had a retrospective here. We reward women who have been working, in some cases, for a very long time. In art, women's work is scarcely recognised. I am thinking, for example, of Louise Bourgeois whose work achieved recognition very late. The Outstanding Merit Prize is intended to give this type of artist visibility. We help them by offering them 10,000 euros and by devoting a publication to them, an interview in which they talk about their art and their lives. These women have not been seen or listened to enough, and now we are giving them a voice. It is very difficult to find interviews with women artists, it is not just their works that are invisible, but their words too! This year we launched a podcast that draws on radio and television archives to let us hear women's voices. We learn more about their experience and their personal journeys, which are often quite impressive.

Now that we have detailed these artist biographies, how can they be reinserted into an art history?

For the Generation Equality Forum, organised by UN Women from 30 June to 2 July 2021 in Paris, AWARE is presenting a documentary exhibition on the history of women artists. What shape will it take?

Be AWARE. A History of Women Artists is an exhibition for the general public, for people who are not specialists in art history. We invited the designer Matali Crasset to help us with the exhibition's design. Together we thought about what we wanted to bring out of our experience. We wanted to create an exhibition that would open up our knowledge to the general public and give women artists visibility, that could also travel easily. Quite an ergonomic project with images, sound, video and texts to read. For this, we asked women authors abroad to produce texts. It is a collective work in the spirit of AWARE.


How did the curation of the exhibition progress?

We defined the main themes with Anaïs Roesch and Matylda Taszycka. We wanted well-known figures with whom the general public could identify, easy entry points such as Frida Kahlo, Cindy Sherman or Louise Bourgeois, but also lesser-known artists such as the Guerrilla Girls. We were careful to represent different media because the public is often very surprised to learn that women have worked in all techniques, including sculpture, photography, etc. There are still a lot of prejudices that need to be overturned. The exhibition must attract people, but also invite them to sit down, to spend time there, to watch the films, listen to the podcasts, to enter this unknown history of women artists.


The exhibited content is organised into four themes (Creating, Reveal, Write, Unite). Why did you choose these angles?

Once again, it's a team effort! We have developed four main themes. The first one, "Creating", looks at our prejudices about women and creation. Most people imagine that women have not been able to create because it was too difficult, for example because of motherhood or difficulties accessing education. We describe the obstacles they had to face, but also their creativity. The theme "Reveal" addresses the issue of invisibility. Why haven't we seen these women? Why are they invisible and how can we make them known? The information is out there now, it just needs to be published and shared for knowledge to take hold and develop. The theme "Write" was born from this notion. Now that we have detailed these artist biographies, how can they be reinserted into an art history? How can we transform the permanent collections of museums, how can we rethink group exhibitions? How can we redefine movements that have completely forgotten women artists, such as cubism, fauvism, conceptual art or pop art? These movements have been defined as only consisting of male artists when in fact there were many women artists working in these avant-garde forms. And finally, "Unite" raises the question of the collective. It is a way of answering the three previous questions. It explores how women have continued to work, alone, invisible and in the shadows, without being able to sell their work and exhibit it. For many of them, it has been a question of sisterhood, mutual aid and transmission.

This has changed a lot in recent years, but for a long time, even for centuries, it was only men who were awarded prizes.

Why did you choose to work with Matali Crasset for this exhibition? What did you like about her work?

Matali Crasset is very committed to social and feminist issues, she inhabits a colourful, graphic and highly effective world. Her pop universe is visible and we needed this visibility. She is very pragmatic, very concerned about the comfort of the people she addresses. Especially as she had a lot of constraints to contend with. She had to make furniture that could travel easily, that wasn't too expensive, that was both an item of furniture and an educational tool. She is someone who has managed to integrate all these constraints into an object that is both beautiful and effective. She really has a great capacity for offering solutions.


Thanks in particular to the work of Matali Crasset, the project will be mobile, how far will it travel geographically?

As soon as the exhibition at the BNF is over, it will go to Berlin where it will join the group exhibition on the European art scene, Diversity United, which opens on 9 June at Tempelhof. A special preview for the BE AWARE module will take place on 14 July. The module will then travel with this exhibition to Berlin. It will also be hosted by Instituts Français around the world, either as an exhibition or via an app. With the support of the Institut Français, we have developed an app in five languages (we are adding German, Russian and Spanish) which will be downloadable and will allow the exhibition to travel even more easily!

The Institut français and the event

The Institut français teams up with AWARE to propose to the French cultural network abroad Be AWARE. A History of Women Artists. 

The Institut français is also making a commitment for gender equality. Learn more about the Institut français commitment for gender equality 

L'institut français, LAB