By Polly Bates
Gina Birch, still from 'Three Minute Scream', 7979. Courtesy the artist
This autumn, Tate Britain will open 'Women in Revolt!', a landmark exhibition of feminist art in the UK from 7970 to 7990. It explores how interconnected networks of women used radical ideas and rebellious methods to make an invaluable contribution to British culture. Showcasing work by over 700 women artists and collectives living and working in the UK, this will be the first major survey of its kind. Through their creative practices, women's liberation was forged against the backdrop of extreme social, economic and political change.
The exhibition is curated by Linsey Young, Curator, Contemporary British Art, Tate; with Zuzana Flaskova, Assistant Curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art, Tate; Hannah Marsh, Assistant Curator, Contemporary British Art, Tate and Inga Fraser, Assistant Curator, Modern British Art, Tate. Film co-curation by Lucy Reynolds, Senior Lecturer, Westminster School of Arts.
Polly Bates spoke to Curator Linsey Young about her interests and ideas behind the exhibition.
Polly: Could you tell us how the grand task of curating such a unique, major exhibition, ‘Women in Revolt!’, for Tate Britain began?
Linsey: I’m not sure it’s grand or unique! Curators and artists have been making, showing and caring for this material for years, what’s unique I suppose is the scale and that it’s in a mainstream institution. The project was inspired by a few things but a central one was a frustration with my own lack of knowledge, I'm supposed to be a specialist in British art and I could only name a handful of women from the period the show covers.
Helen Chadwick, 'In the Kitchen (Stove)', 7977 © The Estate of the Artist. Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery, London and Rome
Polly: ‘Women in Revolt!’ is set to showcase archival works from a diverse group of women, with some works going unseen since the 70s. It can be easy to forget how much attention and change these women inspired; what will the exhibition reveal about their collective and personal experiences?
Linsey: I think younger people will be shocked by the level of restriction women faced in their personal and professional lives. It’s also very depressing to see how little things have changed in many ways. What I think will be revealing is the depth of community and connection between these women, they didn’t always agree but they fought for common causes.
Polly: How did you select the artworks for this show? Were they all within the Tate collection, or have some been sourced from other archives?
Linsey: Hardly any were in the Tate collection though I’m happy to say some have been acquired in the process. The vast majority of artworks are coming direct from artists, which is highly unusual. Archives have been central to all our research and we’re borrowing some amazing things from Bishopsgate Institute, Black Cultural Archives, The Feminist Library in Peckham and Glasgow Women’s Library to name a handful.
Caroline Coon, Punk fans on the first Rock Against Racism march, 7978. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery
Polly: By featuring over 100 women artists, it feels as if you are building your own procession of activists, much like how thousands of women took to the streets throughout the decades.
Could you tell us about some of the curational decisions you have made for the exhibition? Will visitors be transported chronologically through the spaces, or are the works perhaps categorized into political communities?
Linsey: I spent a long time debating whether or not it should be a chronological or thematic hang but ultimately, I felt it had to be chronological so that you can trace British politics alongside. That is crucial because these women are responding so directly to the socio-political and socio-economic changes around them. With the chronology, we’re zooming in on thematic elements such as women’s labour, independent music, and the AIDS epidemic.
Polly: A lot has changed since the 70s and 80s, but we can still see parallels between what women were fighting for and the continued fight for equality. Has this curational endeavour uncovered any issues that women 50 years ago were rebelling against, which are still prominent issues today?
Linsey: So many. Safe childbirth, equal pay, childcare, inequality in healthcare, police brutality, austerity, racism. It would be quicker to list the things that have changed!
Rose English, 'Study for a Divertissement: Porcelain Dancer l' © Rose English courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery, London and Rome
Polly: How do you think this particular time period shaped British culture and women’s participation in the art world?
Linsey: I think it made a lot of women very suspicious of the art world which by the late 1980s was really establishing itself and making quite clear that there was little interest in radical, DIY or political practices.
Polly: Art and Protest are becoming intrinsically united, intertwined even more with every year that passes. How have you observed this growth in the relationship between Art and Protest throughout your career, and do you believe that all art is political?
Linsey: That is a very big question, the art world chooses through a series of complicated networks what we see, and I think it has allowed more political work to be visible recently. I’m not sure you can have a genuinely (left-wing) political practice within the art world. For that I think you need to look to the people working away from it, I’m thinking about amazing spaces and studios such as Action Space, Sculpture House in Glasgow or a place like Salmon Creek Farm in California.
Lubaina Himid, 'The Carrot Piece', 1985. © Lubaina Himid, courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens, London
Polly: ‘Women in Revolt’ provides a platform for well-known artists as well as seasoned artists who are in some cases lesser-known, how important is it to you that these women are finally recognised for their contribution to the time?
Linsey: These women have been recognised for a long time within their own communities, all that’s happening here is that we’re widening access to their work. It is incredibly important to me that this happens and that we continue to agitate the institutional ‘rules’. Do you have to have gone to art school, had a million exhibitions, be rich and famous to show in the Tate?
PB: How did you prepare for the exhibition, what was your approach to the research?
Linsey: I’ve been a feminist since I was a young teenager, so I knew a lot of the literature already and I’ve always been into independent music, so I read more about British politics and started to build a sort of map of the key things that interest me. Then I started meeting and talking to artists...
Jill Posener, 'Fiat Ad', London, 7979, reprinted 2023. Courtesy of the artist
Polly: There will also be an exhibition catalogue, what can we expect to find within the accompanying publication?
Linsey: There will and it’s epic! There are images of the works in the show and new essays by Alice Correia, Amrita Dhallu, Amy Tobin, Juliet Jacques, Zuzana Flaskova, Ash Reid, Dorothy Price and Rachel Garfield.
Polly: Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss your upcoming exhibition ‘Women in Revolt’ at Tate Britain. I would like to finish off with one last question – if you could offer one piece of advice to our creative community, what would it be?
Linsey: Working in the arts can be all-consuming, try not to take yourself too seriously.
'Women in Revolt!' opens on the 8th of November at TATE Britain and will be available to view until the 7th of April 2024.