Sunday, December 3, 2023
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Review: 209 Women, Open Eye Gallery

As a toddler I loved pink, picking up anything in the shop, much to my Mums dismay, that was pink. As I got to primary school, I started to like trousers more than skirts, I fell over a lot and most days I would come home and be told that I looked like “nobodies’ child”. When told this I stood confused as my hair fell out of its neat braids and my shoes caked in mud.

I had fun, was all I could think. Luckily for me I had a Mum that didn’t much mind my lack of “lady like manners”. But by the time I reached high school I was hit with contradictions. I started to enjoy skirts but hated the thought of mascara on my eyelashes, or any makeup on my face for that matter.

I played football in PE, my kind PE teacher Mr Williams letting me get a pair of old football boots from the lost and found so I could play. But sadly, no boys would let me play at lunch time with them. That’s when the comments about being lesbian started, then being ugly. I couldn’t understand it Mr Williams seemed more than happy to let me play (even though I was shocking). He took time to teach me and made me feel like I should be there. Yet everyone else made it seem “abnormal”.

I would cry from the comments and then I’d be told (multiple times growing up) that I “needed a thicker skin”. By the time I made it to university I was still “a sensitive soul”. After a rather painful heartbreak at 20 I grew to being tougher and felt fantastic. ‘Til it started to be pointed out that I was “rude”, “blunt” and (this is my favourite) “unemotional”.

Now as a 22-year-old woman I started to feel as though I couldn’t win. If I cried, I was sensitive if I didn’t, I was a stone-cold ice queen and definitely not “girlfriend material”. We as women have been bombarded with horrific advertising about wanting to achieve perfection in our appearance, cooking, house hold and our kids. Don’t get me started on the looks you get if you say you’re a feminist. What I will say though, is feminists don’t hate all men.

Feeling as though I was fighting a loosing battle and was trying to articulate my own views to myself, I decided to get some inspiration and when I saw the advertisement for 209 Women I couldn’t help but feel excited.

Alison McGovern, MP for Wirral South, by Hilary Wood

The space is typical “white cube aesthetic”, white walls, grey floor and open space. Usually I enjoy galleries that go against the grain and add colour but in this case “the white cube” fitted perfectly. On such a beautiful sunny day as well, the space felt fresh and open. The buzz of women walking around and chatting amongst each other filled the room with electricity. I caught snipes, they were discussing Brexit (I mean who isn’t now). What made me smile though is that each listened, each spoke calmly, each respected the other’s view. Look no further for a perfect example of girls supporting girls.

All three rooms of Open Eye Gallery were filled with portraits of female MPs each one as strong as the other. For a relatively small gallery I was surprised 209 portraits could fit in the space without feeling over crowded. Usually its as though the art is watching you, but you very much watch the art. The portraits ranged in sizes and range from black and white to full colour images.

One of my favourite photographs is of Mhairi Black, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, photographed by Alicia Bruce 2018. The image depicts her in a church holding her phone, there’s a strange contrast between old and new. It also creates a calming effect but still has a power to the image.

The exhibition is entirely shot by photographers that identify as women. The exhibition itself is a reaction to the Parliamentary Art collection “reeking of testosterone” (Laura Robertson – critical writer in residence). The exhibition really shows how women still are not equal to men, but we take on the same vital roles as them in our country. As Laura Robertson wrote “the project disrupts a perception of UK politics as chiefly cis male, and calls attention to a predominantly white, able-bodied and middle-class leadership that still desperately needs to be disrupted.”

The photographs show a range of women which is what I think is so brilliant. Women have a stigma of what is “feminine” such as the use of flowers, make up, dresses or long hair. When used there is a passive aggressive tone of “how feminine”, however when not used it is made obvious how “manly” they look.

This exhibition breaks that stigma because it shows the range of women that exist and that these women can exist at the same time. There is not one mould made for women. Most importantly it shows that women’s image does not represent their intelligence, each image shows strength, confidence, emotion, happiness and power in their own way. Yet each one is different and that is the point of feminism, we get to be different and choose. Each day we fight to expand that choice, so when the day comes for our, daughters, granddaughters and our great-granddaughters they won’t need to fight anymore.

Words, Louise Emily