Review: Women in Revolt at Tate

19/04/2024

Eleanor Fahey (she/her) reviews the Women's Liberation exhibition at the Tate.

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Image by Eleanor Fahey

By Eleanor Fahey

Having missed my train back to York after a weekend at home, there didn’t seem like a better way to spend my extended time in London than to go to Tate Britain with my friends. Channelling the rebellious spirit of skipping the next week’s lectures and seminars, the ‘Women in Revolt’ exhibition seemed appropriate.

Until this April, Tate displayed a multimedia, intersectional, and collaborative exhibition featuring activist art from the UK’s Women’s Liberation Movement during the 1970s to 1990s. The display was diverse and inclusive; from pamphlets for equal pay and equal reproductive rights to creative and personal representations of motherhood, race, sexuality, class and age in relation to gender. It was inspiring to see such a diverse exploration of womanhood. ‘Women in Revolt’ showcased the power of women’s anger and creativity to challenge patriarchal social and political structures.

The exhibition was tangibly emotive, especially with the continuous backdrop of Gina Birch’s harrowing and defiant scream in her video performance ‘3 Minute Scream’. You could hear it from almost any part of the large exhibition, and the audio seemed to interact and compliment whichever piece you were looking at; the terrifyingly human scream kept a constant reminder that each piece of art reflected a real and lived experience and elevated the anguished tone behind many pieces. The presence of her voice also felt reflective of the ongoing women’s movement and the exasperation which continues to fuel activism today. Overall, the relevance of this very modern exhibition made the experience feel all the more moving and inspiring.

Nevertheless, the exhibition was surprisingly humorous. One of my favourite pieces included ‘Womanopoly’ by Stella Dadzie - a parody of the infamous game - which reflected the sheer absurdity and unfairness of the patriarchy. Another personal favourite was a snappy slogan printed on a tea towel by Pat Kahn stating ‘you start by sinking into his arms, and end up with your arms in his sink’, mocking traditional domesticity. It was so simple and witty, yet seemed to reflect a possible sad reality for many. Moreover, a third standout was a collection of photographs showing sexist advertisements which had been graffitied subversively. The humour in these pieces showed a creative response to the media’s objectification of women. The power of parody was something I had never considered before, yet the pieces which made me laugh or smile seem to remain the most prominent in my mind after leaving the exhibition.

The diversity of ‘Women in Revolt’ also challenged my preconception of the women’s liberation movement, even despite already having a keen interest prior to going. Melanie Friend’s photograph of ‘Grannies Against Nuclear War’ showcased women’s united efforts to combat the corruption of the military focused, male dominated governments of the 20th century. Moreover, the art by the BLK Art group underscored the importance of having an intersectional approach to the women’s movement and was informative about how this developed in the UK.

Despite the main focus being on the women’s liberation movement in the UK, there were many pieces inspired by events in other countries which illustrated the importance of learning from other cultures and activities in order to catalyse the movement here. A personal favourite of mine was ‘No to Torture (After Delacroiz ‘Women of Algiers’)’ by Houri Niati, an Algerian-born artist working in the UK. The naked and bound figures in her painting represented the women who revolted against the French colonial rule in Algeria, something which I know little about. The painting was vivid in colour, despite the original piece it responded to (by Eugène Delacroix in 1834) being in muted tones; in this way, the art seemed to reflect the women’s bold actions. I found it a very moving piece, reminding me of the violent reality which faces rebellious women elsewhere in the world but also reminded me of the capability for art to preserve the memory of these selfless figures.

Overall, I would highly recommend the exhibition. Although it is now sold out, I would recommend the ‘Women in Revolt’ podcast on Spotify involving conversations with the artists about their work and the movement as a whole to get a flavour of the exhibit if you didn’t get the chance to attend. There were so many other pieces which I could also write about, as the time period it included was one of intense change and importance. It felt like a very personal exhibition with individually unique works and stories, yet they were simultaneously interactive with each other and with the viewer.

I left feeling inspired and angry, which I think is a powerful thing.