Marking 100 years since women won the right to vote (2018) – Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery hosts an exhibition that is raw, truthful and beautiful. Celebrating womenkind, the collection gives a female voice on matters that are often sidelined and ignored by both past and present mainstream society. Consisting of paintings, installations, photography and sculptures, the show explores feminist ideas and instigates conversation into such.
What is the exhibition about?
Women Power Protest takes place in The Gas Hall and includes work from over 55 artists. Including celebrated names such as Susan Hiller, Lubaina Himid, and Mary Kelly. As well as work from sometimes more controversial artists such as Sam Taylor-Johnson, Sonia Boyce, and Margaret Harrison. Each artist brings their own sentiment to the show as their work explores female identity and gives a social commentary to related topics. The carefully curated exhibition does not shy away from very real and very raw issues concerning womanhood.
Using the three colours of the suffrage flag as a starting point. The gallery space is split into three sections that display themes encompassing hope, dignity and activism.
Women’s struggles within the art industry are explored as you enter the exhibition. Among these issues are the hardships of becoming successful in art, being a working mother, pay gaps and expectations of appearance. Such themes are slowly gaining momentum and acknowledgement in the industry. However, the stories depicted by key works in this exhibition are vital continuing the movement for change.
The artworks visit difficult issues, including injustices surrounding abuse and relationships. Margaret Harrison’s ‘Rape’ (1978) combines media texts and images to create a collage that highlights injustices against women in rape cases.
‘Mr close-friend-of-the-family pays a visit whilst everyone is out’ (1985) is one of Sonia Boyce’s early works, depicting a challenging yet powerful scene. The charcoal drawing portrays abusing the trust of a young woman. The gaze of both subjects in this drawing speak many words and is certainly key to unpicking the subject.
These pieces are displayed among those that celebrate womenkind. But most noteworthy, all topics are vital to exploring the story and struggle of womanhood in art or otherwise.
The Body and Motherhood
The female form is re-affirmed as artists give truthful and experienced visual representations of women.
Birmingham-based artist, Susan Richardson displays decorative crochet’d breasts that resemble wall displays as they hang in an orderly, spaced-out line. Each breast sits neatly in a hand, and a glittering droplet, symbolic of milk, drips from the nipple. This reminds the viewer that breasts have a function more valuable than and beyond male desire.
The purple/pink areas of the gallery space display themes of activism responding to previous issues. Expectation and proactive desire for something to change has become more prevalent in art by female artists. This approach has contributed to the progression we reflect on today.
Inspired by the bold work of feminist artists and activists, Women Power Protest raises awareness. Susan Richardson for example, was once sidelined for trying to balance her work with motherhood. No topic is sidelined, which is a huge part of why it’s so powerful. The exhibition opens up a conversation to discuss just how much has changed for women in the last few decades?
You can catch the exhibition in Birmingham until the 31th March in The Gas Hall at BMAG.
Read my last blog post on Bombay Bicycle Club here.