Women & The Art of Change

Barbican Centre

We celebrate women and their influence on the arts in some of the highlights from the Barbican's annual theme, The Art of Change.

Can the arts change the world?
At a time of significant national and global uncertainty, the Barbican's 2018 season, The Art of Change, explored how artists respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape. The season presented bold artistic responses to vital global issues including feminism, climate change and human rights, while providing a platform for voices currently underrepresented in the arts.  
Subject to Change
Throughout 2018, we invited our Barbican Young Poets to write and perform a poem in response to events taking place that month. The series, 'Subject to Change', has already produced two powerful performances from Katie Hale and Laurie Ogden. Katie responded to an incident where a man called a female customer 'honey' - exploring the frustrations and impact of gendered language in society. Laurie reflected on the Suffragette hunger strikes of 1918 and the women on hunger strike in 2018, in Yarl's Wood detention centre.  
The Art of Change Shorts
How do filmmakers respond to 'the art of change'? In a year-long commission, we're working with a different filmmaker each month to present a new film in response to one of the themes we're exploring in The Art of Change. Director Helen Plumb presented 'A Prickly Subject' - an all-female production which follows the account of a woman who is grappling with the decision of whether or not she should embrace her body hair in public - a prickly subject indeed...
Rhiannon Faith: Smack That (A Conversation)
Endlessly inventive choreographer Rhiannon Faith shone a light on the complex subject of domestic abuse in an empowering and participatory performance highlighting human resilience. In 'Smack That', Beverly is having a party and you are one of her guests. There are games, drinks, shared conversation, energetic dance and heartbreaking moments as she bravely gives a raw and honest account of surviving an abusive relationship.

Each member of the all-female cast, a close-knit group of non-performers and dance artists, fearlessly takes on the persona of Beverly to convey turbulent, real experiences.

The unusual setting creates a safe space for them to reveal the challenges they have faced and celebrate their endurance with the audience.

Faith’s work with a support group at charity Safer Places underpinned the show, which seeks to raise social consciousness around domestic abuse by supporting women to openly talk about it.

Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins
Touching on themes of countercultures, subcultures and minorities of all kinds, 'Another Kind of Life' followed the lives of individuals and communities operating on the fringes of society from America to India, Chile to Nigeria. The exhibition reflected a more diverse, complex view of the world, as captured and recorded by photographers. 

One of these communities was the visitors to Casa Susanna - at a retreat in New Jersey for men who chose to dress as women.

In 2003, at a flea market in Manhattan, antique collectors Robert Swope and Michel Hurst discovered an innocuous looking cardboard box containing almost 400 photographic prints taken at Casa Susanna.

Since the 1980s, Chilean photographer Paz Errázuriz has documented those living on the fringes of society: from trans communities to the homeless.

Here she recounts the stories behind some of her photographs and talks to us about living with her subjects in a brothel during the military regime in Chile.

Nevertheless She Persisted: Suffrage, cinema and beyond
'She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted'  After colleagues silenced US Senator Elizabeth Warren while she read a letter by Coretta Scott King, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unwittingly summed up women’s ongoing struggle for equal rights. A century after the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which first gave (some) women the right to vote in the UK, these films look at women’s rebellious and often dangerous efforts to gain equality, as captured in selected cinematic journeys from around the world. This season featured the incredible stories of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for US presidential candidate; transgender New Zealand MP Georgina Beyer, and the fearless Malalai Joya, who ran in the first parliamentary elections in Afghanistan in nearly thirty years. 
Yto Barrada: Agadir
For her first major London commission, artist Yto Barrada wove together personal narratives and political ideals to create a complex portrait of a city and its people in a state of transition.The sweeping form of The Curve was transformed with a dramatic installation – encompassing a mural, film commission, sculptures, and a series of live and recorded performances – to consider how a city and its people might address the process of reinvention following disaster. 

Barrada takes as her starting point a surreal text by Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine – Agadir (1967) – reflecting on the devastating earthquake of 1960 that destroyed much of the modernist Moroccan city.

Barrada’s multimedia practice has explored questions ranging from migration to abstraction, from fossils to botany, examining the strategies of resistance employed every day in her native Morocco.

Artists & Activists: Second Wave Feminist Filmmakers
The Women’s Movement of the 1970s empowered women to step behind the camera in larger numbers. Their pioneering work platformed voices, stories and issues previously ignored or misrepresented. In our 'Artists & Activists' film season, we celebrated the ground-breaking directors who made films outside the mainstream industry, frequently through activist film cooperatives and collectives. Their work was screened in ‘consciousness-raising’ groups, at political conventions and in other alternative venues, and was often intended to spark discussion and action on women’s issues.These films offered alternate visions to the mainstream, introducing subjects of interest to women and reshaping how films were made in ways that continue to be influential. Through cinema vérité, animation, experimentation and autobiographical techniques – such as images from dreams and entries from diaries – a new cinematic language was forged to capture a shared experience.
The Wooster Group: The Town Hall Affair
New York's iconic theatre group channels a raucous 1971 debate on women’s liberation that still reverberates today in 'The Town Hall Affair'. In front of an audience of literary heavyweights gathered at New York’s Town Hall, pugnacious American novelist Norman Mailer squares up against a panel of prominent feminist advocates including Germaine Greer, Jill Johnston and Diana Trilling. The occasion is captured in the documentary Town Bloody Hall. 

'The Town Hall Affair', directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, features extended clips from the film and revisits that explosive night with Enver Chakartash, Ari Fliakos, Greg Mehrten, Erin Mullin, Scott Shepherd, Maura Tierney and Kate Valk playing the real-life participants onstage.

Layered with additional text and footage, 'The Town Hall Affair' draws on experimental techniques to delve into the revolutionary fervour of 1970s’ feminist thinking, and lets us consider who we were then and who we have become.

Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing
Best known for her work during the Great Depression of the 1930s, this exhibition celebrates Dorothea Lange’s photographic vision from her early studio portraiture and iconic ‘Migrant Mother’ to the post-Pearl Harbour internment of Japanese-Americans and changing face of the social and physical American landscape after WWII. A formidable character with a political purpose, Lange focused her lens on human suffering and hardship to critique issues of injustice, inequality, migration and displacement with a sense of urgency that is of immediate relevance to today’s political climate. This will be the first UK retrospective of American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) and takes place in the Barbican Art Gallery from 22 June 2018. 
Vanessa Winship: And Time Folds
The recipient of the prestigious Henri Cartier-Bresson prize in 2011, Vanessa Winship’s poetic gaze explores the fragile nature of our landscape and society, how memory leaves its mark on our collective and individual histories. Winship’s work captures the ‘transition between myth and the individual’, revealing deeply intimate photographs that often appear to avoid specific contexts or any immediate political significance. The exhibition brings together an outstanding selection of more than 150 photographs, many never been seen before in the UK. This was the first major UK solo exhibition in a public gallery of British contemporary photographer Vanessa Winship and takes place in the Barbican Art Gallery from 22 June 2018. 
Credits: Story

The Art of Change is the Barbican's 2018 annual theme, presenting bold artistic responses to vital global issues including feminism, climate change and human rights, while providing a platform for voices currently underrepresented in the arts.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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