Women Groundbreakers

A Series on women who broke the mould and changed the world

Dr Patricia Bath painting portrait by Anya Vero in oil on silk
Tu Youoyou portrait by Anya Vero Oil on silk
Hedy Lamarr portrait in oil on silk on a canvas with uneven angles of the frame
Rosalind Franklin portrait in oil on silk by Anya Vero
Hypatia portrait by Anya Vero Oil On Silk
Dr Grace Murray Hopper painting portrait by Anya Vero in oil on silk
Flossie Wong-Staal by Anya Vero oil painting portrait
Maya Angelou by Anya Vero oil painting portrait
Billie Holiday by Anya Vero oil painting portrait
Ann Tsukamoto by Anya Vero oil painting portrait
Dr Grace Murray Hopper painting portrait by Anya Vero in oil on silk
Flossie Wong-Staal by Anya Vero oil painting portrait
Maya Angelou by Anya Vero oil painting portrait
Billie Holiday by Anya Vero oil painting portrait
Ann Tsukamoto by Anya Vero oil painting portrait

After realising that the How It Works book of “Great Inventors And Their Creations”, a coffee table journal she was browsing while living in Riga, only celebrated the work of one female out of a total of thirty inventors, the artist Anya Vero decided to take action.

She launched this series of portraits of female groundbreakers who, while they haven’t been accorded the household status of their male counterparts, have each changed the world and performed exploits no less impressive, especially given the extra obstacles they faced – gender bias, barriers to education or jobs in their chosen field, and a range of personal challenges.

The series explores the work of women across all walks of life, drawing from a range of scientific and artistic disciplines. Despite the rise of feminist movements across the world, all the data – qualitative and quantitative – shows there is still a huge gender imbalance. Throughout history, women have rarely been granted the same platform as men and, as seen in the stories of the women painted, are rarely given the same financial, vocational, educational, and social opportunities. We need only look at the notorious RBG, i.e. the great US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had to reject offers of better grades in exchange for sex. Or the way Rosalind Franklin, whose work was crucial to the discovery of DNA, was shut out of the Nobel Prize award for that discovery. 

To hinder 50% of the global population like this is not only immoral, it’s perversely inefficient. Without the women painted in this collection, millions more people around the world would be dying every year from malaria (Tu Youyou) or living with blindness (Patricia Bath). We would be deprived of kevlar, the incredible material devised by Stephanie Kwolek used in dozens of household products, from bulletproofing material to sports equipment. We would lack the beautiful, provocative creations of Billie Holiday, Maya Angelou, Frida Kahlo, to name but a few.

There are hundreds of things that need to be done in redressing the gender balance. One of them is education; celebrating the achievements of such women not only for the sake of paying homage, but to inspire future generations of women that they too can change the world for the better. That is the purpose of this series, a small, humble yet material piece in a larger invaluable puzzle.

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Ann Tsukamoto by Anya Vero oil painting portrait

Ann Tsukamoto

Tsukamoto is an inventor, scientist and stem cell researcher whose work and research in bone marrow transplants have saved the lives of thousands of people battling blood cancer.

Dr Patricia Bath painting portrait by Anya Vero in oil on silk

Patricia Bath

A pioneer in the field of cataract treatment, Patricia Bath used the power of laser-technology to invent a more accurate and less painful procedure, thus leaving a legacy that spans far beyond the reaches of her field of ophthalmology.

Stephanie Kwolek

Kwolek invented kevlar, a hugely versatile material that not only helped saved countless lives through its use in bullet proof clothing, but also weaved its way into numerous other household products.

Flossie Wong-Staal by Anya Vero oil painting portrait

Flossie Wong-Staal

Wong-Stall was a molecular virologist who saved countless lives through her dedication to research in the field of HIV studies and other viruses. Under her leadership UC San Diego transformed into one of the leading research facilities on the disease in the world.

Maya Angelou by Anya Vero oil painting portrait

Maya Angelou

Few people did as much to support the Civil Rights Movement and lives of 20th Century Black Americans as the prolific writer and poet, Maya Angelou. In a career that spanned over 50 years, she wrote seven autobiographies, a stream of books, poems, TV shows, plays and films, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, won three Grammys for various spoken word albums, and was invited by Bill Clinton to recite one of her poems at his inauguration.

Tu Youoyou portrait by Anya Vero Oil on silk

Tu Youyou

Tu Youyou saves millions of lives every year through her work in malaria treatment and was the first Chinese winner of the Nobel Prize in a scientific category, Physiology (or Medicine). She was also the first human volunteer to test the ingredient that she isolated believing it would certainly work, and it did!

Hedy Lamarr portrait in oil on silk on a canvas with uneven angles of the frame

Hedy Lamarr

WIFI. It’s the basis of our lives today, but it all started with this woman, some 60 years ago, when Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil, invented what would today be the base of WIFI.

Billie Holiday by Anya Vero oil painting portrait

Billie Holiday

When you think of real jazz you think of the greats and among them shines one star in particular that against all odds paved the way to the status of being legendary.

But while we know Billie Holiday as a supremely talented jazz singer, someone who built a successful career against all the odds, she led such a varied and exciting life beyond her music that it’s scarcely believable she managed to fit it all into her short lifetime.

Rosalind Franklin portrait in oil on silk by Anya Vero

Rosalind Franklin

DNA is our most fundamental understanding of ourselves – this is what we are. The person behind the first ever x-ray photograph of DNA and its structure is Rosalind Franklin. She was an English chemical scientist, specialising in X-ray crystallography and her work is paramount to our understanding of the molecular structure of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal and graphite.

Hypatia portrait by Anya Vero Oil On Silk

Hypatia

Hypatia was one of the most prominent mathematicians and astronomers of late antiquity. She was famous in her time and is considered to be the first woman mathematician (that we know about). Scholars traveled from around the world to learn mathematics and astronomy at her school.

Dr Grace Murray Hopper painting portrait by Anya Vero in oil on silk

Grace Hopper

Dr Grace Murray Hopper revolutionised and modernised computer programming by inventing the first compiler, a program that converts programming code into machine language. She was one of the first computer programmers, working on the Hardvard Mark I – the first machine that could process long computations automatically, used in the war efforts during WWII.

Marie Curie by Anya Vero Oil Painting Portrait

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, only the second female Supreme Court Justice in American history, was a fierce champion for women’s rights in the US, right up until her recent death aged 87.

Combining an argumentative flair with exceptional pragmatism, she leaves behind a legacy that will inspire generations of young American jurists to continue challenging the gender inequality she identified and fought throughout her illustrious career.

Marie Curie by Anya Vero Oil Painting Portrait

Marie Curie

When we think of ‘radioactivity’, we think of dangerous chemicals and nuclear meltdowns, or of X-rays and related advances in medical treatment, or commercial flights that expose us to it. We are aware of its huge impact on our lives

In this painting, the focus is on the remarkable woman who coined the term itself and secured two Nobel prizes in two distinct sciences (the only person ever to have done so).

Marie Curie by Anya Vero Oil Painting Portrait

Katherine Johnson

Often dubbed a ‘human computer’, Katherine Johnson has left behind a legacy as a brilliant mathematical mind, a major player in the development of American aeronautical and space exploration in the 50s and 60s, and an inspiration to aspiring African-American STEM students around the world.

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