Exhibition Preview: 209 Women, Voice and Revolution
Located in Mann Island, Open Eye Gallery creates a unique profile for Liverpool photography exhibitions. The gallery provides an accessible platform for individuals and groups. It aims to push UK based and international artists towards each other through a series of art projects. With a recent success in the exhibition Wake Up Together, the gallery strives to give the viewer insight into the power of gender parity through its upcoming exhibition 209 Women. I have met with Jacob Bolton, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, to discuss the exhibition and stories behind it.
ZL: When will Open Eye Gallery launch the exhibition, and for how long will it last?
JB: The exhibition will be launched on 28th February, and it will last for about 6 weeks. In fact, the project started about a year ago. We (Open Eye Gallery) became involved in it in July. The exhibition itself was launched on 14th December 2018, and the reason it was launched on that day is to mark 100 years since the first general election that women can vote for the first time in the UK.
ZL: Why did Open Eye Gallery choose to cooperate with this project? Or more specifically, what kind of value did Open Eye Gallery see in the project?
JB: We are interested in not just art in photography, but more interested in the agency of the photography—what photography does. It’s particularly about what photography communicates and how it communicates. I think the project really ties that in for us. It’s a very strong symbol when it takes place in the House of Parliament. It replaces the art collections (which are mainly paintings of men) with photographs of women, and that is a very strong visual statement. Overall, in terms of the project, it’s about how we use photography today. We can say photography is a force that can agitate for social change.
ZL: In your press release, you mentioned that not only the photographers and MPs are women, but the core team which support the exhibition are also women, (Hilary Wood, Tracy Marshall, Lisa Tse etc.) Do you think the exhibition is an epitome of women’s power in Modern English Society?
JB: For sure, it’s a good demonstration. It’s an exhibition made by women, with women, and representing women in their own terms. I think the issues are that women are not represented enough in visual culture. When you see advertisements and videos, you probably realise that the images of women have been co-opted into certain products, and that, obviously, is a negative thing in our society. So, when you see the whole project being produced by women, you kind of deny that. Women are expressing themselves in their terms; they are finding a positive representation that is consensual and affirming (women’s power).
ZL: The exhibition is exclusively about women politicians. What’s the hidden message in it? Does Open Eye want its audience to define 209 Women purely as ‘an exhibition of gender politics?’
JB: I think the exhibition focuses on gender issues instead of political. One of the things we do is that when we hang the portraits, we don’t say which political party each MP belongs to. The reason (we choose not to show the political parties) is that people would change the way they understand the pictures. For us, this is about people identifying with leading women who are in politics. The identification of gender needs to come before the identification of politics. Let’s take an example. If I’m looking at an MP’s portrait, and I know the MP is from a political party that I agree with, I would believe the picture is a strong depiction of modern women. However, when I look at the portrait which is from the oppositional political party, I no longer identity with the picture in the same way. Of course, politics is a very strong part of the project, but we are trying to make it neutral or apolitical.
ZL: Which image did you find particularly interesting?
Hannah Bardell, MP for Livingston, image courtesy of Sarah Lee
JB: Oh, there’s one in the show that I have a good connection with. It’s not a woman in a power suite in an office. It’s an image that is really humanizing women. The photographer and MP had gone out to the sea in the morning, and they’d taken images like the one above because she really likes surfing. For me, this kind of humanizing image is the most powerful.
ZL: Now the exhibition is yet to open. How will your team curate the exhibition? For example, how do you select photos and want the exhibition to look?
JB: This exhibition is special. Usually we take selections over wider series of works, whereas in this one, these new portraits are commissions made especially for the exhibition. The process of the selection has already been done by the photographers. Now it’s up to us how to arrange these images. We plan to arrange them by colour grouping, by different motifs which appear throughout, or by great visual harmony. Throughout the exhibition, we’re going to have a timeline of women’s political activities, and we may demonstrate social milestones like big shifts in public response around the legitimacy of women in politics.
For more details about 209 Women, please visit: https://openeye.org.uk/whatson/209-women/