Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Review of Liberties at Collyer Bristow Gallery

Collyer Bristow Gallery
2 July – 21 October 2015

The year 1975 was a landmark one for women around the world. It was declared by the United Nations to be International Women’s Year, and, in the UK, it saw the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Employment Protection Act (making statutory maternity pay a requirement for employers and legislating against dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy). Since then, things have continued to improve in the UK: in 1976, the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act was introduced; in 1979, Margaret Thatcher was elected as Britain’s first female prime minister; in 1987, Julie Hayward, a canteen cook at a Liverpool shipyard, became the first woman to win a case under the amended Equal Pay Act; and in 1992 Betty Boothroyd MP became the first female Speaker in the House of Commons. There is still much to be fought for to achieve full equality, however, and the creation of such projects as Million Women Rise (2007) and the Everyday Sexism Project (2012) is testament to this. This year has seen the founding of the UK Women’s Equality Party by broadcaster Sandi Toksvig and author and journalist Catherine Mayer. 

Given this unsatisfactory status quo, the curatorial duo Day+Gluckman (Lucy Day and Eliza Gluckman) wanted to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a pivotal year, but also to provoke and encourage continued attempts at revolution and radical transformation. As Alexandra M Kokoli notes in an essay to accompany the exhibition,1 “feminist accounts of the past first emerged as feminist responses to gaps in historical narratives”. The curation of this show follows what the Dutch cultural theorist Mieke Bal has called a “preposterous history”, whereby contemporary artworks quote or allude to past artworks, “put[ting] what came chronologically first (‘pre’) as an aftereffect behind (‘post’) its later recycling”.2 This is exemplified in Jessica Voorsanger’s Claude Monet (Bald Series) (2013), where a woman is seen adorned with the artist’s iconic beard; Rose English’s Baroque Harriet 2 and 3 (1973) where women are seen reclining on a chaise longue and posed in a frame, but wrapped up respectively in a duvet and a large bow, destroying the traditional gaze, by offering them some modesty; and EJ Major’s series investigating the axe attack on Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus by suffragette Mary Richardson in 1914.

Read the rest of this review here

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