With International Women’s Day just around the corner (and with Women’s History Month underway), we at The New Aesthetic felt that it would be a great time to pay homage to some of the most iconic ladies in pop culture and beyond. From musicians, actresses and creators to pioneers, politicians and activists alike, women are a vital part of our society and inspire us every day.
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Balance for Better’. We’ve compiled a list of women who have pushed for equality (be that for all genders, for education, for opportunity or otherwise), and we’ll be sharing a post every day of the week with a highlight on different areas of the industry as follows:
Scientists & Pioneers
Today though, we’ll be taking a look at the creative industry in particular, with a focus on musicians and artists.
Musicians & Artists
The first ladies in our list are something of a natural choice, given our love of pop culture. Music and art are two of our favourite mediums, but we believe that the ladies below are far greater than their creativity alone. Read on to discover why Janelle Monáe, Rihanna and Frida Kahlo are three of our top inspirations this International Women’s Day.
Musician, actress, activist
Bursting onto the scene in 2007 with her debut record Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), Janelle Monáe’s foray into the realm of popular culture was hardly a quiet one. Here had arrived a profoundly talented vocalist, with a unique sound and exquisite dancing to boot, bringing with her the first of three concept albums. The story follows Monáe’s alter-ego, an android known as ‘Cindi Mayweather’, as she exists in a world known as Metropolis and falls in love with a human before being condemned to disassembly. Later in the concept, Mayweather is sent back in time to ‘free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time travel to suppress freedom and love’ - a concept which, as Monáe later explained, holds a mirror up to the notion of the ‘haves and have-nots’, the ‘minority versus the majority’, and the ‘break(ing) of the chains that enslave minorities of all types’. The android is, indeed, a representation of the minority - a group which Monáe herself identifies with, and which many others can find a sense of solace in, too.
Throughout her career to date, Monáe has fought for representation for all ‘androids’ - this sense of ‘other’, as she has described - filling not only her lyrics with meaning and a demand for action, but her daily politics, too. She has marched in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. She has championed the LGBTQ+ community in her music videos, her singles, and her live performances. She is an ally of the working class. Above all, she is a believer in equality and liberation for all.
From her mixtape days through to her place on stage at the Grammys, Monáe’s self-expression and unwavering support of equality cannot have gone unnoticed. Even as she has moved towards cinema, the characters she portrays are, too, an extension of her own politics and beliefs (she played the role of Mary Jackson in 2016’s ‘Hidden Figures’, and is set to represent activist Dorothy Pitman Hughes in a film about her life).
Consistently, Janelle Monáe has stood as an unapologetic representative of the ‘android’; the ‘other’; the marginalised. Irregardless of her fame and her success, it does not seem as if she will ever tire making noise on behalf of those who need it. As Kimberly Foster wrote a few years ago, no amount of threat to her cultural palatability will silence her - it has only, and will continue to, embolden her. Hers is a resounding, remarkable voice, and not only in a musical sense - it is one of hope, of understanding, and of liberation for all.
Singer, actress, activist
Another artist to step out in favour of equality is Rihanna. This globally-renowned superstar is much-loved for her ‘bad gal’ image, tireless work ethic and, recently, her appearances in films such as Ocean’s 8 (a female-led spin-off of the popular Ocean’s franchise), though she has also earnt the respect of many others due to her political activism and philanthropy, too.
In 2006, Rihanna created the Believe Foundation, put in place to improve the lives of terminally ill children. The Foundation hosted a series of concerts under the title of ‘A Girl’s Night Out’ - fans were able to attend for free, and the monies raised via sponsorship and advertisement were used to provide medical supplies, education and toys for those in need. Her care for younger generations and desire for wider access to education saw her founding another foundation - the Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF) - which supports the Clara Braithwaite Center for Oncology and Nuclear Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados, as well as a series of education programmes. Elsewhere, Rihanna has worked as a designer in partnership with H&M, taking part in their ‘Fashion Against AIDS’ campaign as to help raise awareness and funds for the cause. She has also collaborated with MAC on their Viva Glam campaign, which too raises funds for those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
While Rihanna was, at first, somewhat reluctant to accept her position as a ‘role model’, it would be impossible to dispute her incredible efforts. It would be easy for an artist of her stature to simply enjoy the positives of wealth and fame - plenty others do just that - but for Rihanna, being a celebrity is about more than just being a household name. This is an artist who uses her platform for greater things: whether donating huge sums of money to those affected by Hurricane Sandy, or participating in Women’s Marches, she recognises the power of her own celebrity and is responsible in using it.
In 2018, Rihanna was made ‘Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary’ in her home of Barbados. Her role includes the promotion of tourism and investment for the island but, critically, a focus on education remains paramount. Penning a piece for The Guardian in 2018, Rihanna drew on her experience of being raised in Barbados, acknowledging that retrospect has instilled a sense of appreciation for her own education. In turn, she points out the necessity for better education worldwide - the accessibility of education for all - and the impact that learning has on equality. Rihanna recognises the power of her own voice but, similarly, understands that she alone cannot change the world - which is why she implores others to join her. ‘Every voice counts, and limited knowledge is no reason to stay silent,’ she notes. ‘We all have a stake in this.’
Artist, feminist, revolutionary activist
Arguably one of the most famous faces in the art world, Frida Kahlo is, to many, more than just a creator. She is a symbol of feminism, of strength, and of conviction, and not just in her works (though we shall move onto that shortly). This is a woman who was unafraid to speak out about the injustices of the world, despite her status as a minority: as a woman, as the daughter of an immigrant (and an immigrant herself, later on), and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. During her time at the elite National Preparatory School in Mexico (an institution with few female attendees), Kahlo earned a reputation as somebody who was ‘deeply immersed and seriously committed to Mexican culture, political activism and issues of social justice’, and this is a theme which would continue through her life, and even into her death.
From attending communist marches to her final farewell (her coffin was draped in a communist flag, much to the chagrin of Mexican officials), Kahlo was fearless in her expression, and in sharing her thoughts on right versus wrong. Even when she moved from her beloved Mexico to America in 1930, she was openly repulsed by the sense of capitalism in her adoptive home, a sentiment which is notably illustrated in her piece ‘My Dress Hangs There’. In addition to her dedication to communism, Kahlo was a proud representative of minorities - this is something that could not only be found in her artworks, but in her daily politics and in extensive diary entries. Perhaps above all else, Kahlo was proud of who she was - as a Mexican, and as a woman who had endured much pain - and would seldom shy away from her self-expression.
Kahlo is known for a series of unflinching pieces of work; notably, her ‘Henry Ford Hospital’ piece. She was a woman revered for her beauty, brains and talent, but even by today’s standards her art can only be described as brave. Her works covered topics such as abortion, miscarriage and illness (something which had plagued her since childhood), as well as the concepts of androgyny and femininity. The impact that Kahlo has had on politics, feminism and art is something which has not only lasted past her death, but has continued to soar in modern times as well, solidifying her position as an icon for the ages.
We’ll be back tomorrow with a focus on actresses. Stay tuned for more from us, but in the meanwhile, we’d love to know if there are any other women who inspire you? Let us know who your heroines are in the comments below!The above designs are available for sale in our store across an array of items, such as t-shirts, posters, and totes. We are also available for commission pieces - simply reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. Enjoy!