Art exhibition celebrating International Women’s Day

Goodenough College Members, in collaboration with the Guilds and Liveries of London, opened an exhibition called 'In Visibility', which ran from 6-11 March in the College's Great Hall.

“The exhibition sought to highlight visible and invisible power structures, and pull at some of these gendered (plus classed, and racial) threads, manifest in what is in visibility and what is invisible,” says curator of the exhibition, Kitty Brandon-James.

Curator Kitty Brandon-James

Following an open call to College Members and the 111 Guilds and Liveries of London, the exhibition showcased the work of a varied and talented selection of female artists.

The exhibition juxtaposed the permanent portraits of Goodenough’s benefactors hung in the Great Hall with artworks by Laura Silva Abello; Ashlyn Anderson; Ruta Arizona Czaplinska; Shruti Gaonkar; Gala Hills; Misha Hebel; Susan Isaacs; Christine Jaudoin; Anja von Kalinowski; Bella Lane; Daniel M K Lee; Lon Lee; Jane Masojada; Rianna Patterson; Gail Reid and Joey Richardson.

College Member Shruti Gaonkar’s textile piece Embracing Absences was hung in-between Goodenough College’s Empire Clock, and Gail Reid’s painting, Defiance. The indigo shapes on the muslin depict the dance Kathak, a north Indian form of storytelling with ancient roots. Shruti describes how before the British Raj, women who danced Kathak were among the most materially and culturally wealthy in the land, owning palaces, jewels, and high status. Under colonial rule the women were stripped of their wealth and their palaces, and their high social position was diminished. Kathak was reframed as a courtesan dance and its highly trained artists were forced to service British soldiers, as prostitutes. Later these women helped to fund the War of Independence.

Embracing Absences, Shruti Gaonkar

This site-specific piece, made specially for In Visibility was designed to face Goodenough’s Empire Clock. Shruti, trained in Kathak, attached motion sensors to her body to visually capture the shape of the dance. This was then sliced in time, dyed indigo, and attached to muslin.

In Venus’ Gaze, Shruti Gaonkar

Shruti’s second piece, a soft mirror, titled In Venus’ Gaze, responds to the painting The Toilet of Venus by Diego Velázquez (also known as The Rokeby Venus), owned by the National Portrait Gallery in London, which has often been criticised for transforming Venus, through the male gaze, into a submissive and titillating object. In Shruti’s own words: “The hand sewn sculpture in hand dyed indigo cotton fabric and yarn is a post colonial retelling of the primordial goddess with terracotta eyes questioning the power of gaze and agency  … The sculpture dislodges the western art history’s politics of gaze by employing the motif of south Asian spiritual belief system of ‘darshan’, that seeing is an act of transformation.”

Gail Reid describes her work Defiance not as a portrait, but as a collaboration. It features the late, great, Cheryl Hardy – a mature history student at Bristol University. This collaboration is best described in Cheryl’s own words: “Breast cancer relentlessly stripped away everything that I deemed as feminine and beautiful about my body and appearance … It’s a never-ending, always changing, unbelievably difficult process to navigate both physically and emotionally. It was after surgery and during radiotherapy that I decided to become a life model again. I was bruised, broken and in pain but the universe introduced me to the very talented Gail at exactly the right moment. I love life modelling. I love the creativity, the power, the confidence, the physicality, the art, shape and form. I love that it’s empowering me with an awareness that a scarred body is an interesting and unique body of light and shade. I love the teamwork, respect and trusting relationship between the artist and model. And, I love that it’s pushing boundaries.”

Defiance, Gail Reid

Gala Hills who is studying an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) at the Slade School of Fine Art created a portrait of Maive Goodenough. Recent investigations by the College’s newly formed Maive’s Society uncovered archival evidence of the instrumental role Maive Goodenough played in founding Goodenough College. And yet, Maive is invisible: no plaque, no bust and no portrait exists among her male compatriots. The portrait was officially unveiled at In Visibility on International Women’s Day.

Gala Hills with her portrait of Maive Goodenough

“In drawing Maive I wanted to show some of the process of making a portrait, the preparatory drawings and the way line builds up the recognisable features of a person. I felt as though I was uncovering her a little more through each drawing I made. She is a marked invisible presence within the College, in this drawing her face is half way to emerging from the paper, as she herself is also beginning to be recognised.”

Gala also created a series of paintings inspired by found photographs of women from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

“I am interested in how we read these faces of women we will never meet or see, what we impose upon them and what they show us of themselves. Some of the faces are distorted masks or the smooth faces of dolls, hiding their faces from us.” 

Rianna Patterson created a series of self-portraits. Here she’s pictured with another College Member, the filmmaker Be Zilberman who is documenting In Visibility with a short film.

Rianna Patterson filmed by Be Zilberman

Ruta Arizona Czaplinska presented her piece the REVULVA project which in the artist’s own words is “a bold departure from conventional packaging for period products, challenging gendered norms and transcending stereotypical aesthetics. Breaking free from soft colors, floral patterns, and butterflies, REVULVA embraces a design language inspired by qualities typically associated with masculinity, featuring vivid colors, metal and leather finishes, and forms reminiscent of revolvers.”

The REVULVA project, Ruta Arizona Czaplinska

Ashlyn Anderson’s work was inspired by her own ambiguous reflection into what it means to be seen as a woman. Her piece captures a female reflection in a tea cup which creates a pensive and meditative source to question our own image and sense of self, specifically in relation to what we consume.

Ashlyn Anderson speaks about her work Me in Tea. (Also, Laura Silva Abello’s works are visible on the wall)

Laura Silva Abello’s inspiration is her mother. Her paintings are her tribute to her mum – a free spirited, feminine advocate who always fought for the importance of making the invisible women in our society visible. Thanks to her mother she found that colours express a hidden reality, sometimes invisible to our daily perception. “As the little prince once said ‘Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’”