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Women In Revolt! Art And Activism In The UK 1970-1990: A Visionary Archive

From The Equal Pay Act to punk activism to the British Black Arts Movement, this is an exhibition of socially focused artworks and practices not to be missed. It is a truly rare exhibition showcasing over 100 women artists. 

The extensive exhibition space provides an amalgamation of diverse and visionary works of art. This diversity is set in its range of artists, techniques, styles and subject matter, leaving you with an overwhelmingly impressive imprint of the profound effect that art has had on the women’s liberation movement. 

The exhibition acts as an archive of hugely influential UK social history, documenting The Equal Pay Act, miners’ strikes, anti-nuclear, anti-pornography, pro-choice and Reclaim the Night marches. The feminist art presented mirrors the movement itself in its unconstrained and constantly developing nature. This is why the immense scale of this exhibition works so well, as it encompasses the complex branches and strains of the different forms of social activism that continue to be enveloped in the feminist movement. 

The instances in which the exhibition truly shines are when personal stories of the human condition are being shared. Mumtaz Karimjee’s photo series ‘In Search of an Image,’ documents the complexities of her identity as a South-Asian lesbian. Aileen Ferriday’s Moira 1-4 sees women simply existing in still images, being introduced to their own visual personalities and appearance outside of any outwardly imposed constructs. 

Melanie Friend’s From Mothers’ Pride series consists of interview extracts and photographs of young mothers with their children. It is said to be created “as a counter to the regular criticism of teenage mothers by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government.” 

The complex intersectionality of each piece ensures that the space never falls stagnant. Race, disability, sexuality and class are interwoven into every display, rooting the exhibit within the importance of its context. 

Moreover,  it is not just the social and historical context of the artworks that are explored, but also the emotional impact of this turbulent era of women’s history. The various prints detailing a series of feminist interventions to advertisements across London carry a sense of rage that is laced with humour. 

Catherine Elwes also writes of her own work Menstruation, explaining “maybe I was being naïve, but I was trying to point to the value that was attached to menstruation. Biology should only be biology not destiny.” This self-critique of her own perceived naivety is yet another example of the complicated and varied emotional aspects of the women presented here, and their resistance to the opposition of their work and activism. 

Women In Revolt! Art And Activism In The UK 1970-1990 is at Tate Britain, London, until 7 April 2024. Showcasing a host of art that has quite literally reframed the structures of our very society, this is an exhibition not to be missed. 

Edited by Mariyam

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