Currently being showcased at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Women Power Protest brings together over fifty female artists to explore themes of power, gender and feminism across the past few decades.
When I was in college, a hopeful Art and Design student, I proudly announced to the rest of the class that my project was going to be about feminism, about decoding feminine and feminist stereotypes through a series of personal and insightful essays.
I like to think I’ve evolved since that college project, both as a creator and as a feminist. The evolution of womanhood and feminism has been monumental over the past hundred years and Women Power Protest makes a good effort to try and capture that progress in a reflective and hopeful way.
On entering the Gas Hall, I was greeted by a glorious, holographic, rainbow wall with the exhibition title proudly projecting from its kaleidoscope hue. Immediately, you get the sense that this space is different; contemporary and retrospective.
The exhibition presents a parallel of themes – hope and dignity, struggles and injustice, as well the complexities of gender, race, class and sexuality. Maud Sulter’s collage ‘As a Black Woman’ (1985) interweaves the intricacy of race and womanhood with a poem that is as poignant today as it was in the eighties.
A section titled ‘Activism’ doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics, and the collection is all the better for it. A mixed media piece on a large canvas by Margaret Harrison, simply named ‘Rape’ (1978), is frighteningly relevant in its content.
What’s so significant about the pieces that surround the topic of abuse is the focus on the survivor. A charcoal mural, titled ‘Mr close-friend-of-the-family pays a visit whilst everyone else is out’ (1985), focuses on the face of an adolescent girl staring out at the viewer. Framed by crudely drawn hands and a handwritten title, Sonia Boyce’s piece is eerily reminiscent of primary school decor.
A unique element of this collection is commentary from local women in power; Preet Gill, MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, says of Boyce’s work, ‘We don’t focus enough on victims…I think it highlights how, in society, different hands feel it’s okay to touch us, when we haven’t given permission to do so.’
What’s most evident from this exhibition is that while so much of it resonates, no two experiences are the same; the nature of womanhood is that it is in a constant state of change.
Women Power Protest is the start of an important sentence, but the rest is open-ended. If you go visit the exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery this month, I recommend attending more of the many events, talks and tours surrounding the exhibition, to make sure you’re a part of the conversation too.
Women Power Protest is a free exhibition and will run from 10 November 2018 – 31 March 2019. Find out more here.
Lead image credit: Cotton.com (2002) © Lubaina Himid. Image courtesy Stuart Whipps (photographer) and Spike Island