Launching to coincide with 100% Women, a 12-month programme to support female artists and redress the persistent gender imbalance in the commercial art world, the exhibition seeks to broaden engagement with artists outside the gallery’s current roster and incorporate global perspectives. It forms the first part of Richard Saltoun’s new online exhibition series, hosted on the gallery’s relaunched website, with a new digital show presented each month.
With such vast reach, no contemporary artist can escape the reverberations of empire, whether through contemporary manifestations like Brexit or socio-political effects of intergenerational gender, racial and sexual oppression. At every level of engagement, the postcolonial world in which we live involves recognition of multiple viewpoints, framed by a variety of perspectives – gender, ethnicity, class, identity, tradition, history and place. While not all accounts can be clearly elucidated and visualised through a single exhibition, Women Artists After Empire seeks highlight the potential of art in a globalised world to be both a relief and weapon of cultural struggle.
Eleanor Antin’s series of watercolours – The King and his Subject – play on the domination of the British royal family and their loyal servants, as well as the rife abuse and mistreatment of those servants. Sue Atkinson’s mixed media work harks to her work in the 1980s when she was actively involved with demonstrations against nuclear weapons as well as her broader social and political engagement. Helen Chadwick’s 1986 work Allegory of Misrule draws on Johann George Plazter’s painting of the same name, in which she photographed the original and manipulated it by projecting images of the atomic bomb to create a multi-layering effect that doubly comments on the results of misrule. Her work Ruin (1986) depicts the artist nude, turning away with shame or disgust from a skull grasped in her hand and perched on a book – in reference to ‘discovery voyages’, journeys taken by Western explorers to collect artefacts and display them in cabinets of curiosities as a symbol of wealth.
Greta Schödl’s works speak to the power of cartography, using maps as the basis for her text-based, meticulous drawings to highlight their use as a tool for charting, surveying and expanding the empire by defining trade routes and delineating new borders. Janette Parris’s animation Brief Encounters (2015) and print The Job Was Boring (2011) capture the artist’s humorous essence, whilst also reflecting a dry and self-effacing look at the world and opportunities available to women today.
Jo Spence’s The Highest Product of Capitalism (1979) equally offers commentary on workplace opportunities for women, particularly in relation to her own work at the time as a commercial photographer. Etchings titled A box of diamonds (1973) by Shelagh Wakely, who was raised in Kenya surrounded by ecologists and natural scientists, are a subtle critique on the African diamond trade as dominated by Western powers. Hannah Wilke’s small sculpture made of gum, twisted into the shape of a vulva, is one part of a larger body of work that addresses the role of women in society, traditionally used for consumption, chewed up and spit out.
IMAGE: Eleanor ANTIN, The Slave Sale from The Last Days of Pompeii, 2002, Chromogenic print, 51 x 102 cm
© Eleanor Antin; Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery