Where Are The Women? Tate and Le Meridien get the conversation started

A while ago you may remember we wrote about Art Under Attack at Tate Britain and how we’d discovered a terrific mini exhibition about Suffragette art curated by artists and academics Olivia Plender and Hestor Reeve. How fabulous then, to be invited by Tate Britain and Le Meridien Hotels to a special screening of the film Where Are The Women (above), at which Olivia was a guest speaker.

The film pokes at the art establishment’s heavy male bias and questions why there are so few women artists represented in our major galleries. Olivia and the film’s writer, art journalist Jessica Lack, gave us real insight into how tough it is to be a female artist today and get sponsorship/funding/attention. We talked art, women and emancipation all through a delicious lunch in Le Meridien’s Terrace restaurant and were spurred on with a splendid cocktail The Lady Blender, but more about this, including recipe, in Thursday’s post.

The rise of Feminism #3 (or is it #4?, I’m getting conflicting numbers) is making us re-examine our presence in boardrooms, politics, education, society and the arts. I appreciate equality in Art might not be as urgent as topics like equal pay, education and the removal of violence against women, but it’s darned important for leaving a lasting heritage that inspires the next generation of women artists.

Olivia talked us around her exhibition at Tate Britain and explained how she and Hester had battled to get Sylvia Pankhurst’s role as an important artist (not just a female one) recognised. Before their involvement, she was completely absent  from the Tate walls. Sylvia, who was trained at Manchester Municipal School of Art and the RCA in London, toured factories and produced paintings of women’s working conditions which helped the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) argue a strong case for equality.

I loved how the WSPU would come together and celebrate the release of any suffragette from prison with tea and cakes at a smart hotel (much like the one we’d just been in) where they would be presented with a brooch or decorated apron to acknowledge their achievements.

art 01Then, with Tate Britain’s curator Linda Bolton (above) as our guide, we searched out other women artists hung in the Tate’s hallowed halls and as Linda said as we marched through room after room with no women in them, ‘You have to walk through centuries of art history before you find the first female!” It’s Emily Osborn and her Nameless and Friendless painting from 1857.

art 04We then found Gwen John, Dora Carrington, Vanessa Bell, Sarah Lucas, Mona Hatoum (image above) and my all time fav artist, Barbara Hepworth (bottom image

art 02I have to confess to a bit of a girl crush on Linda, who was immaculately turned out in city tweed, -an olive wool suit and a Chesterfield-style checked wool coat with contrast tweedy collar she got ‘ages ago’ from Jigsaw. And fabulous boots. But what I really loved, after her informed, sparkly and erudite insights into the women artists on show, was her messy up-do. I know, I’m SO SHALLOW.

art 03So, if the Where Are The Women film has got your prickles up and you’re up for getting this lack of equality around women artists on the agenda, next time you go to any gallery, ask how many women artists are on display or are represented. And then ask why there aren’t more. Every little query helps.

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  • This was an absolutely fabulous article to read. I met Linda Bolton in 1975-6 In Boston/Cambridge Massachusetts USA, when she was there to do an internship at Harvard to study the John Singer Sargent paintings in the Gardner Steward , BMFA ,and Fogg Museums She quite literally swept me off my feet , with her knowledge , beauty , conversational skill, and for several weeks time we enjoyed, and number of conversations over coffee and of all things slices of Boston Cream Pie. Linda just loved her Boston Cream Pie , I was an art student in the area of Photography at the time and doing my internships at MIT in the department of electrical engineering strobe lab with Professor Harold Edgerton so Linda and I found our ways in an about Boston and Cambridge to various bakeries will we get experience all the possible types of Boston Cream Pie available in the greater metropolitan area. I can only base my experience on that, but can say on a personal level it was an absolute pleasure to converse with her even when we were both in our student age 20s. I am pleased to see she has done so well in the field of Arts, as lecturer, and with the skill and knowledge in that genre, I enjoyed the article and the description on her clothing yes dressing quite London Tweed I would say.
    Glad I found this article.

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