‘The Glass Ceiling Is Very Low’: Rencontres d’Arles Photo Festival Criticized in Open Letter for Gender Disparity

Promotional material for this year’s Rencontres d’Arles festival.


In an open letter posted to Wordpress and published in French by Libération earlier this week, a group of artists and art professionals spoke out against gender disparities at Rencontres d’Arles, the annual photography festival held in the south of France. The letter, which is addressed to the festival’s director, Sam Stourdzé, notes the prevalence of men in the festival’s programming and its staff, and urges Rencontres d’Arles to work toward gender equality in its 2019 edition.

“A major contributor to this issue is the lack of awareness and commitment from curators institutions and festival managers, who continue to leave women in the margins,” the letter reads. It continues, “It is time for real action. And that action is simply to exhibit women artists. Women do not want exceptions—they want a fair, equal share to level the playing field, including at international festivals like the Rencontres d’Arles.”

Among those who signed the letter are artists Victor Burgin, Valérie Jouve, Orlan, Martha Rosler, and Zineb Sedira; Iwona Blazwick, the director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London; Marjorie Allthorpe Guyton, the president of AICA International; and Karen McQuaid, the senior curator of the Photographers’ Gallery in London.

Citing examples of exhibitions that have advocated for increased visibility for art by women—such as the Centre Pompidou’s “elles@centrepompidou” and “Qui a peur des femmes photographes?” (“Who’s Afraid of Female Photographers?”) at the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie—the letter goes on to suggest that it’s time that Stourdzé made a greater effort to showcase female photographers. “In your role as Director of Rencontres d’Arles, you have told us that representation of works by women will be done gradually,” the letter reads. “But honestly, women artists have no more time to waste!”

The letter was posted as Rencontres d’Arles winds down its 2018 edition, which continues through September 23. Programming this year was dominated by solo exhibitions devoted to men, with shows of work by Robert Frank, Taysir Batniji, Christophe Loiseau, and William Wegman headlining the event. Solo shows by women artists included presentations of work by Yingguang Guo, Laura Henno, and Ann Ray.

The letter concludes: “Women artists with high quality work exist in abundance. The audience is ready, and the market will follow. All you have to do is to decide and say it publicly: ‘The Rencontres d’Arles will become an equal opportunity event in 2019, the year of their fiftieth edition. The major exhibition venues, the means used, in terms of financing, production and communication, will be fairly distributed between the selected artists, women and men, of all ages and origins.’

“You, and only you, can play this triggering role for the Rencontres. In 2019, for the 50th edition of Arles—and the editions that follow—work a little harder to raise the percentage of exhibited female artists to 50%. Just do it!”

The full letter can be read in English on Wordpress.

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