Women Groundbreakers

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

 When someone mentions that Kevlar was invented by Stephanie Kwolek, people are often surprised and amused that such a “manly” invention was in fact created by a woman. Or that CCTV originates from an idea of Marie Van Brittan Brown, that the Earth’s solid core was discovered by Inge Lehmann, and that the original abstract painter is Hilma Af Klint – all of this makes people go “wow!”… Yet, when you mention a man discovering or creating something it is taken as a given, as expected. There is a difference in the way we see women groundbreakers as opposed to men groundbreakers. 

This work explores this dichotomy of perceptions between feminine and masculine breakthroughs whilst going on a journey to discover women’s achievements through various fields in the arts and sciences. The collection comprises 33 women groundbreakers who created, invented or discovered things that changed our lives, each painted in oil on silk stretched over a shaped frame. The choice of frames pays tribute to non-conformity, to the desire to see something extraordinary and explore off-the-beaten paths. The portraits don’t just hang there plainly and complacently; rather they penetrate through space, drawing you in through the lines of the canvases, the imperfect angles directing the eye from one part to another.

Anya Vero unveiled the collection at a special event at Area 1070 Gallery in Vienna on 8th March 2023, to mark International Women’s Day with a series of mini-talks and performances exploring the lives and works of these groundbreaking women.


Tu Youoyou portrait by Anya Vero Oil on silk

Tu Youyou

Inspired by a passage of ancient Chinese literature (from which her name, coincidentally, was taken), Youyou isolated the active ingredient of sweet wormwood, now known as ‘artemisinin’, to develop a cure for malaria that saves millions of lives every year. She and her team won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015, showing the value in preserving the old for the sake of the new.

Oil and mixed media on silk; approx. 87 x 72 cm

Frida Kahlo

Kahlo’s legacy extends beyond the iconic, arresting self-portraits that made her widely considered to be one of Mexico’s greatest artists of all time. More than simply a talented artist, she embodied the ideal of an artist willing to fight through adversity, suffering and misfortune – whether an early contraction of polio, life changing bus crash injuries, miscarriages or tumultuous relationships – to create, no matter what. Even after her death in 1954, her work continued to flourish with the rising tide of feminism in the 1970s and her status as a symbol of women’s creativity.

Oil on silk; approx. 80 x 95 cm

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

Martha Gellhorn

Gellhorn was a prolific war journalist who dedicated her life to narrating conflicts around the world. Her seminal book, The Face of War, includes first hand accounts of the Spanish Civil War, the Vietnam War, the Finnish battleground in World War II and conflicts in Central America. 

Oil on silk; approx. 101 x 66 cm

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

Natalija Aleksandrova

This painting of the artist’s mother is a tribute to all mothers throughout the world, and to all those who couldn’t, cannot and chose not to be mothers. It’s a tribute to womanhood and motherhood, the origin of life, incredible strength. It’s a thank you to the painter’s mother who has been a continuous support, unconditionally loving and caring.

Oil on silk; approx. 98 x 85 cm

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

Patricia Bath

Bath developed a treatment for cataracts using laser technology that has lifted thousands of people out of blindness and became the first African American woman to be awarded a patent for a medical invention. Her life’s work was inspired by her observations interning at Harlem Hospital, showing a higher rate of blindness among the black community, and in particular the extremely high rate of glaucoma.

Oil on silk; approx. 77 x 69 cm

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.

Oil on silk; approx. 95 x 82 cm

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

Yayoi Kusama

Immersing yourself in the world of Yayoi Kusama feels like being dropped into a fairytale, with whimsical patterns and shapes, bright colours that trigger happy emotions, giving us a sense of adventure, awakening our imagination. However, once you look closer and examine the nature of those shapes, or the meaning of the colour, or an almost hysterical and soothing succession of patterns, you realise that there is more to this than meets the eye. There is struggle in this work. Deep inner struggle with the demons that began hunting the artist from childhood and grew into horrible beasts by the time she reached adulthood.

Oil and mixed media on silk; approx. 90 x 68 cm

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

Hedy Lamarr

Not only was Lamarr a famous actor with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and credited with simulating the first on-screen orgasm (in the 1933 Czech film, Ecstacy), she was also a brilliant inventive mind. Along with her friend George Antheil, she developed a frequency-hopping technology for Allied submarines that, while unused in the war, led to the development of modern day WiFi and Bluetooth.

Oil on silk; approx. 81 x 74 cm


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

Malala Yousafzai

For some people, the idea of ‘taking a bullet’ isn’t simply rhetorical, some thought experiment around willingness and sacrifice. Yousafzai champions education for all women in Pakistan worldwide and her journalism and activism, even after nearly dying from a bullet to the head aged only 15, has led to her becoming the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate in history at 17.

Oil on silk; approx. 76 x 83 cm

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.

Oil on silk; approx. 85 x 73 cm

Jane Goodall

Goodall is famously the only human ever to have been accepted into a chimpanzee society. During her research (in Tanganyika, East Africa) she observed various behaviours thought only to be shown by humans, including laughing, kissing, hugging, and tool making. In 1977 she established the Jane Goodall Institute for the protection of chimpanzees and their habitats, which propagated the foundation of many other smaller organisations.  

Oil on silk; approx. 95 x 89 cm

Hilma af Klint

Af Klint was a Swedish artist and mystic widely considered as one of the early pioneers of modern abstract art. Developing alongside her artistic contemporaries, a circle of female artists called “The Five”, she experimented with different ways of painting, including automatic drawing which, as the name suggests, involves taking out the conscious elements of creating a drawing, thus allowing the unconscious mind to channel ideas onto the page.  

Oil on silk; approx. 85 x 86 cm

Sofya Kovalevskaya

Kovalevskaya became the first female professor in Northern Europe in 1884 and the first woman to obtain a modern-day doctorate in mathematics. Arguably her most famous intervention involved the discovery of the “Kovalevskaya top”; in (very) simplified terms, it explores the movement of a spinning top by using algebra to predict its motion based on defined criteria including its centre of gravity. Her work thus forms a small part of the foundation of modern mechanics.

Oil on silk; approx. 40 x 45 cm

Marina Abramović

The simplicity of Abramović’s performance art is one of its most disarming qualities. Her most famous works include: The Artist Is Present (2010) in which Abramović spent two and a half months in the New York Museum of Modern Art and invited visitors to sit in front of her, sitting across from 1,545 different people and Rhythm 0 (1974), in which she placed 72 objects on a table – ranging from honey and olive oil to a whip, thorns, a gun and bullet – and invited audience members to do whatever they wanted to her using them.

Oil on silk; approx. 68 x 89 cm

Rita Levi Montalcini

Levi-Montalicini was a neuro-biologist who explored the nature of nerve cells and discovered Nerve-Growth Factor, linked with the brain’s ability to regenerate and create new cells throughout life, earning her and her research partner a Nobel Prize in Medicine. Her work extended beyond science as she served on the Italian Senate until her death aged 103.

Oil on silk; approx. 82 x 73 cm