“My Body, Your Rules” (2018) by Deborah Roberts


EVERY YEAR, 10 WOMEN ARTISTS receive Anonymous Was A Woman grants. The unrestricted awards of $25,000 go to women artists who are more than 40 years old. The 2018 recipients were just announced and Deborah Roberts, Heather Hart, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, and Michèle Stephenson, are among those selected.

Designed to support artists at a critical point in their careers so they can continue to advance their work and grow their practices, the grant recognizes “an artist’s accomplishments, artistic growth, originality and potential.” The name of the program refers to a line in Virginia Woolf’s extended essay “A Room of One’s Own,” which was published in book form in 1929.

Grant recipients are selected by nominators. The nominators are all women—distinguished art historians, curators, writers, and previous grantees. The awards were established in 1996 in response to the decision by the National Endowment for the Arts to stop providing support to individual artists, and since that time the nominators and the source of the grant funds have been unnamed.

That changed six months ago when Susan Unterberg revealed herself to be the founder and sole patron behind Anonymous Was A Woman in the New York Times. Up to that point, she’d given $5.5 million to 220 artists. Unterberg, 77, is a photographer who lives and works in New York City. An inheritance from her father makes the grants possible. She’s a private person and was concerned about how her own work would be evaluated if she was recognized as a philanthropist.

Eventually, she determined it was more important to be able to use her voice to speak up for women artists. The Times reported she “decided to come forward so that she can more openly argue on behalf of women who are artists, demonstrate the importance of women supporting women and try to inspire other philanthropists.” Unterberg said: “It’s a great time for women to speak up. I feel I can be a better advocate having my own voice.”


Installation view of HEATHER HART, “The Last Oracle of Lacuna,” Storm King Art Center, Cornwall, N.Y., 2017


The 2018 grantees are the first cohort announced since Unterberg identified herself. The selection includes four black artists:

  • Deborah Roberts of Austin, Texas, works primarily in collage. Sourcing images from photographs, magazines, and the Internet, she makes abstracted representations of black girls that explore race and identity issues and notions of beauty and body image. Her first solo exhibition at Stephen Friedman Gallery opens summer 2019 in London.
  • A Brooklyn, N.Y.-based multidisciplinary artist and co-founder of the Black Lunch Table program, Heather Hart‘s work “explores nostalgic futurism, amalgams of distorted traditions and symbols.” Her latest work includes a series of site-specific rooftop installations that address issues such as history, perception, and liminality.
  • Spanning photography, performance, painting, sculpture, film, and video, the work of Cuban-born, Boston-based María Magdalena Campos-Pons is often autobiographical. Currently, she is the endowed Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair of Fine Arts at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. In 2019, she is serving as artist-curator for the Havana Art Biennial in Cuba.
  • Michèle Stephenson is a filmmaker, artist, and author based in Brooklyn, N.Y. A former human rights attorney, she co-founded Rada Film Group, with her husband Joe Brewster, to tell stories rarely presented in mainstream media. Best known for the 2012 documentary “American Promise,” she contributed to a New York Times Op-Docs series called A Conversation on Race (2015-17). Stephenson’s subjects often draw on her international legal experience and Panamanian and Haitian heritage, among them, her current feature film “Hispaniola,” which is in progress.

Previous recipients of Anonymous Was A Woman grants include Beverly Buchanan (1940-2015), Sonya Clark, Maren Hassinger, Simone Leigh, Beverly McIver, Lorraine O’Grady, Betye Saar, Joyce J. Scott, Amy Sherald, Mickalene Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, and Deborah Willis, who was an inaugural grantee in 1996. CT


SEE FULL LIST of 2018 grant winners


TOP IMAGE: DEBORAH ROBERTS, “My Body, Your Rules,” 2018 (acrylic, pastel, ink, gouache and collage on canvas, 62 1/4 x 42 3/8 inches \ 158 x 107.5 cm; Framed: 63 1/4 x 43 3/8 inches / 160.5 x 110 cm). | Copyright Deborah Roberts. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London


“María Magdalena Campos-Pons: Everything Is Separated by Water” documents the artist’s first full scale survey exhibition organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art and includes an essay by Okwui Enwezor. Co-authored by Salah M. Hassan and Cheryl Finley, “Diaspora, Memory, Place – David Hammons, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Pamela Z.: Three Artists, Three Projects, Dakar Biennale” explores Maria MagdalenaCampos-Pons’s contribution to the 2004 biennale in Senegal.


A Conversation with Black Women on Race by Michéle Stephenson and Joe Brewster. | New York Times Op-Docs: Season 4 (2015)


MARIA MAGDALENA CAMPOS-PONS, “Finding Balance,” 2015 (Composition of 28. Polaroid Polacolor Pro 24 x 20 photograph mounted on aluminum, 96 × 140 inches / 243.8 × 355.6 cm)


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