For my research I focus on the lack of visibility of contemporary women in Dutch art institutions and how this is shaped by historic patterns of exclusion of women artists throughout history. In the seventeenth century women were excluded from art workshops and if they were able to create, supported by men in their surroundings, they experienced restrictions in subjects.

Little work made by these women remains and if available it is said to be too limited in amount and too fragile in material to show in a grand way. This pattern of thinking still hampers contemporary women artists in their visibility. For that reason I want to create awareness of the historic patterns in the Dutch culture still at play with curation and purchases of art by women by creating paper flowers. The flowers represent still life art, which were an acceptable topic and paper because it is fragile and can easily be damaged at exhibition.   



To be able to answer the research question,”How can the lack of visibility of women art makers in Dutch institutions be better acknowledged by decision-makers?” and create something to support this question has been an intens process.

After reading the report by Women Inc. on the lack of visibility of women artists I felt injustice. This is grounded in my personal experience in business where I did experience a similar discrepancy. 

I considered working with the topic, however because it is so complex and big I was not sure I felt comfortable pursuing this project in the relatively short amount of time available. I wasn’t comfortable with whether I could do it justice and in such a way that would move away from a judgmental and polarising situation. 

For that reason I did start the research while continuing another candidate project. However, the internal pull to pursue and interest in the topic were too big to resist and started a journey I could not have imagined. 

Critical research elements

The initial phase of the research was focused around desk research. Reading the report by Women Inc. and all its sources. From there I would continue topics and wrote down elements of interest.

In parallel I contacted Women Inc. for an interview. Before the interview I attended the International Women’s Day Symposium at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, called “Shattered Ceilings”. After the report starting my interest, this symposium was one of the most critical elements of my research. This is where I picked up on the materiality of the work being relevant to the exhibition possibilities and hierarchy of materials in art. In addition I had the opportunity to meet and talk to many in the industry as input for the research.

At a personal level I also realised how little I know myself about women artists. I bought the book by Katy Hessel to educate myself and this was another valuable step. Reading the book made me pick up on the second major element influencing my design; being the exclusion of women in art workshops and the topics they were and were not allowed to work with. 


As mentioned this topic can be overwhelming, dealing with cultural and social structures. To be able to move away from discussion around the numbers in the research of Women Inc. and having to defend myself for the results published I wanted to focus on more personal experiences. To be able to do so I conducted several interviews. 

Next to that formulating a more defined scope and research question helped in defining the main objective of the research. Ideologically I would like to contribute to a change of the status quo. Looking at the problem, the lack of visibility of women artists in Dutch art institutions, I looked at what powers were at play and where the key to change would be. I found that the decision makers in charge of curation and art purchases hold an important key to facilitating change. For that reason they are my main target audience. 

To be able to influence their decision making I envision designing change through increased awareness of the historic patterns grounded in decision making patterns still holding ground today. Not all of these decision making criteria are relevant anymore, or seen as important selection criteria like they used to be centuries ago. Rather they are toxic and prevent diversity and equality in the art industry. 


Designing change

After the Rijksmuseum symposium I did not immediately start working around the materiality of paper. Rather I focused on visibility playing with clear materials like glass and aspects of light and shadow. 

There was potential in the elements of the play but it did not strengthen my story and objective as much as I would have liked.

I worked with portraits as historically portraits were often limited to men of statue. 

Another test was with grouping together to make a change, like at the symposium people would group  to discuss what need to happen to change in the musea and their approaches. 

I also tested a workshop in which I invite people to work with the ceramics and have a conversation about the topic simultaneously. This did not work for me for this project. It might be a future addition and interesting to get the conversation going but it was not contributing to my audience and story at the moment.

As I choose to work with ceramic I worked on this test for several weeks given the time it requires to create. That might also have been the reason why I held on too it for too long, even despite me knowing this was not the right way forward. 

In parallel I also did paper tests. Also working around visibility, hidden messages and revealing. 

I had in mind to have the audience to interact directly with the work in order shape it. Like direct interaction is required for a change to happen. 

And another field of tests was with digital elements. Digitalisation is often mentioned as a way to create exhibitions and visibility of fragile works that in that way can stay in depots. 

I saw digital as the new paper and wanted to see what that could lead to. I choose the topic of still life to work with and create digital flowers. Inspired by the painting of Rachel Ruysch. 

During the research I found so many things I wanted to incorporate in my design that the message got lost. I noticed this when people asked me to tell about the project and what I would be making. As a response I got questions that indicated more clarification was needed. I was over-engineering. 

A talk to a tutor from the drawing station, who had never seen my work before helped me to get back on track. She asked me what the goal was of my research and how this would answer my research question. I had been so busy testing that I lost track of why I was doing this. 

That same day I thought about what the most important thing would be I wanted to convey and how I wanted to get that across. 

For me that was the fragility of the medium women in history worked with and their exclusion of access to workshops and topics. That fragility is best captured by the material many of them worked with, paper. As a result many of their works did not survive history and it was also not deemed important to keep. 

The exclusion I wanted to capture through the topic of still life. Honouring the topic they were allowed to work with and making a recognisable connection to art history for the viewer. 

Being impressed by the great accuracy displayed by the flower paintings of Rachel Ruysch I wanted to make realistic looking paper flowers. I also choose Rachel Ruysch as source of inspiration because most people in the Netherlands will recognise her paintings but are not aware of who made them. Her work is highly commercialised with wall papers and merchandise. 

To make them as realistic as possible I tested crepe paper, allowing them to be light, luminance and fragile. 

Along with the paper flowers I made several ceramic vases. I envisioned the flowers to be in there for the presentation. However once they are put in the vases the flowers and vase are competing for attention. Again I added a complicating element that could be stripped away. 

So I started making more flowers to test possibilities of showing. However make a single flower is extremely time consuming. I do appreciate the manual labour going into making something. I want people to wonder and take a closer look. 

The paper flowers can also fuel a discussion about time and value. Is something worth investing in if it does not have eternal life?  Can it still display for example beauty that can also make it valuable? The same for the historic work made by women, do they have a different value because it is made on paper compared to that of men like Vermeer and Rembrandt?

My work will be different from that of others in that it will be the start of more activities and it is a set of different elements to create the awareness rather than it being one single item. I felt the topic is so big that different approaches are required in parallel to support each other. The larger flower pieces, the smaller wearables, a support system for women artists and a platform for visibility. 


To be able to the get the message across I considered several ways of exhibition. 

The first is the vase with flowers. I found this was a too literal interpretation of the painting.

Second, a pile of petals from which flowers grow, showing different stages of blossoming and withering. This would mean petals would be exposed to the elements of wind and visitors. This however did not translate the positive images I wanted to create for the women, it did not honour them in my view. It would feel like they would be trashed. 

Thirdly, a flower field raised from the ground so you would be able to look at and not on top of the flowers. To make a flower bed with impact I would need to be able to make a lot of flowers, which is not possible in given time. 

Fourthly, a large flower bouquet, freestanding. The flowers would be around 1.70 meters tall. To be able to pull of realistic flowers this size more testing would be required. To make impact I would need either many regular size or a few large size. Within the ability of this period I choose regular size flowers. 

Fourthly, a flower wall. Hanging the flowers like they are a painting themselves. This is an idea I want to pursue. Next is how to make that work. 

Exposition stand

Having decided on a flower wall I need to think about the set-up of the stand. I prefer a freestanding wall that allows people to walk around.

I made a prototype of the flowers, together with text and the later added brooches. This combined with being able to show historic context gave an impression that was too messy for me. Things were fighting for attention and focus got lost. 

The flowers are there to draw attention and gain interest in knowing what is behind. That is why they should be popping. I want to do that literally by positioning the flowers forward. 

To stay with the materiality of paper I research possibilities of making a paper stand. I found the option of making it from cardboard and also look at the option of a transparant paper wall.

To create a strong branding for the change I reach out to graphic designer Sophie Phoelich. Together we review the ideas for the stand and look at how to make it stronger and more effective. Like the business card design on transparent paper with a flower print.

Rather than showing the painting of Rachel Ruysch we discuss whether perhaps we can make a flower wallpaper, like her painting is used as wallpaper. And how the paper flowers can pop even more. Based on this I test options to have the flowers free hanging in a frame, or popping out of a transparent paper wall. More testing is required for stability reasons. 

I considered digital aspects in the exhibition like integrating spotlights if viewed at proximity, or segments of an interview to be heard. 

As digitalisation is often mentioned as a way to show women’s work grand I want to refrain away from this and show the craftsmanship required to make something that requires time, detail and attention. A picture or movie about it requires a different way of looking and my standpoint is that the work of historic women and contemporary women need to be viewed in real life as well. Not solely as a digitalisation. It can be a nice addition though, and if made into a proper online exhibition that supports the offline exhibition and can be viewed separately that is even better to reach a broader audience to (re)gain visibility.

The narrative

To be able to communicate the research and create an actual change information is required at the stand. 

What I want to get across is that historic patterns of exclusion are still relevant in today’s presentation of historic and contemporary women artists. 

The way I do that is by using the material of paper, which is said to be too fragile to show in a grand way and the fact that it is vulnerable to decomposition and deterioration at exposure to for example light or moist. 

The exclusion I show through the subject of a flower still life. 

What I need for that is a historic explanation about the workshop and subject exclusion, resulting in work made on paper and still life. How do I show this? a video, images, sound? I decide to use the reference to the wallpaper that so many people have and are familiar with, yet don’t know it is made by Rachel Ruysch. 

If time allows I might add an audiotour option as well. And for the future perhaps a small documentary movie. 

The accompanying text, the abstract of the project, is to be shown at the stand is divided in three parts. Each to be found at a different panel.

Section 1 – the paper flowers:

Dutch history has shaped the lack of visibility of women art makers up until today. From the exclusion to education and workshops, limiting women’s possibilities to work as an artist and forcing them to rely on the generosity of men in their direct surrounding to be exposed to material and training.

The exclusion has nothing to do with no women artists being available, or that they are forgotten, there is a systematic pattern of exclusion behind it. The dominant position of men over women in society affected the value assigned to the work made by women negatively.

If women had the possibility to create art their subject was restricted as well. Still life was considered a suitable subject, while topics with more public display with mythological or religious matters were available only to men.

The paper flowers refer to the position of women created by patriarchal structures and behaviors in the Dutch society. Awareness and recognition are created to the structural exclusion of women’s visibility at Dutch art institutions. Creating awareness hopefully leads to more conscious decisions and actions to change the pattern of structural exclusion of women artists.


Section 2 – Rachel Ruysch:

Do you recognize this painting?

Do you know who made this painting?

Many might recognize this image without being aware who made it. Only the past few years recognition is regained for the few women that did manage to break down boundaries of being an artist in history. Rachel Ruysch’s (1664 – 1750) flower paintings for example, were highly respected and often sold for more in her lifetime than Rembrandt’s (1606 – 1669) did in his.  Despite this appreciation her work was only added to the Gallery of Honour at the Rijksmuseum in 2021.

It is stated that it is harder to show historic work made by women in great retrospectives due to the limited amount of work and the fragile material they have used. The historic undervaluation and representation of female artists is still reflected in that of contemporary female artists.

Section 3 – brooches:

Despite growing awareness and initiatives in support of women artists their public visibility is still low. This requires a call for action.

Even today work made by women is still underrepresented at Dutch art institutes like galleries, musea and exhibitions. This lack of representation feeds into the price setting and assumed future value of the work.

A difference can only be realized if patterns are changed, and unconscious assumptions are overruled by conscious actions.

To support women artists you can buy a paper flower broche. The money will be used to support other women artists in creating their visibility. 

In support of the change the installation is only the starting point.

I can imagine art institutions buying larger flower pieces to show their support and active participation in breaking the historic patterns of exclusion of women artists.

The smaller brooches can be worn at art exhibitions or events. Going forward I might look into the possibility of making the brooches in another way and more appealing to wear as a real jewellery. For this I will reach out to jeweler Sophia Sphragis.

With the money from the brooches I consider how to increase the visibility of Dutch women artists and the awareness of the historic patterns. This could for example be by supporting women artists to increase their visibility. Or perhaps a Dutch platform similar to that of Katy Hessel, the great women artists instagram account.

I will sent invitations to Dutch art institutions and maybe I will organise an event around it with a specific time at the Graduation Show. 

Graduation Shop

For the graduation shop I want to create paper flowers, paper brooches, and maybe a photo album of all flowers made. In the future that might even develop into merchandise with these photos. 

Besides these realistic flowers I want to develop my own flowers. For this installation I believe realistic flowers worked the best and I will use the knowledge of how to make them to develop more artistic versions. 

I will also create a space where I can exhibit and sell the flowers, a paper flower shop.

I would like to thank everyone who has supported me over the last few months in the creation of this project. 

Special thanks to Jeroen, who provide me with the freedom to create. Berty for being always there to help out if needed. Renate, Romy and Rinke for sharing graduation stress.

All the people who took the time to talk to me about the topic, Philippien, Sander, Jule, Mark, Sjoerd, Catherina, Anne. As well as Sophie, who created a wonderful branding to make this project shine. 

And of course Karlijn, Ivo, Iwan, Sumia, Victor and Cham from the WdKA for all their feedback and support. Without you this project would not have been what it is now. 

Let’s Blossom!

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