Place to Women’s Place?

Posted on 8 March 2019 by Liverpool Biennial

Annie Pootoogook, Composition (Women gathering whale meat), 2003-2004 at Humber Street Gallery, Hull. Photo: Rob Battersby

Annie Pootoogook, Composition (Women gathering whale meat), 2003-2004 at Humber Street Gallery, Hull. Photo: Rob Battersby

Reflecting on art’s role in society – and women’s place in art – Kathryn Ogram takes us on a celebratory journey through the incredible work being done and presented by women in her home city of Hull.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. that is dedicated to championing women through the arts, challenges us on art as a reflection of society, asking: “If the artistic landscape neglects women, what does that say about society as a whole?” Indeed, in a large empirical study released in December 2017 by artnet Analytics and Maastricht University, only 13.7 percent of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are female.

The cultural organisations for which I have the brightest passion in Hull, UK City of Culture 2017, are directed by women of verve and persuasive sparkle. Jenny Howard-Coombes of the Freedom Festival Arts Trust and Back To Ours’ Louise Yates set the gold standard here in female artistic role models, alongside my favourite contemporary visual artist, the illuminating and thoroughly inclusive, Debi Keable. Add to these Absolutely Cultured's CEO/Creative Director Katy Fuller and the many other female artists who have left indelible traces of inspiration and magnificence on our city recently, and it feels that Hull’s tradition of determined women, telling it how it is and generally getting on with stuff, is being upheld.

Katherine Pearce in The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca © Hull Truck Theatre

Maxine Peake, on a sunlit dock platform in August 2017, crackled with emotion and commitment to the story of Hull’s Headscarf Revolutionaries, which she went on to mould into the power of The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca. Pride and courageous reality on the rolling stage of the Guildhall; art seeped in the sweat-soaked pinnies of the women of Hessle Road whose identity mattered not to them. They fought for their men and boys through hell and literal high water. An extraordinary, ordinary life in a fishing community.

Towards the end of 2017 a riot of colour, craft and collaboration breezed through this proud port in the shape of social sculptor Julia Vogl. An effortlessly influential artist who empowers communities from within to explore and express their creativity through the simple accessibility and boldness of her vision. 

Julie Vogl, Grains of Scandalous Blue, 2018 at Humber Street Gallery, Hull. Photo: James Mulkeen

A year on from the infectious flair of Julia’s Grains of Scandalous Blue, Humber Street Gallery hosts Place to Place as part of the Liverpool Biennial touring programme – an exhibition by three female artists who entice us into their home environments spanning three continents through remarkably differing mediums.

Suki Seokyeong Kang’s soothing, yet bleakly restrictive and repetitive Land, Sand, Strand uses traditional woven Korean mats to delimit individuals’ space in society and invokes, especially through the choreographed activation of her installation, a humdrum domesticity. In striking contrast, Turkish visual artist Inci Eviner sets out unashamedly “to give a voice to women” in her Daliesque multi-layered interpretation of heaven juxtaposed with Istanbul’s rooftop cityscape, where women are calling the shots and the shots are calling to women. 

Inci Eviner, Reenactment of Heaven, 2018 at Humber Street Gallery, Hull. Photo: Rob Battersby

The meat in this surreal sandwich is seal and whale. Devoid of sentimentality and achingly accurate, Annie Pootoogook’s posthumous collection screams “reality” from the gallery’s middle floor as she shares her insight into her life as an Inuit woman with often stark depictions and even starker titles. The drawings veer from the monstrous Man Abusing his Partner to the banality of Family Taking Supplies Home, via the provocative post-coital cuddle of Watching Porn on Television as she vies to expose her experiences of her Northern Canadian home. An extraordinary, ordinary life in a fishing community.

Pootoogook’s art undoubtedly reflects society. Her society. For her and all other women artists, society deserves to reach the point where the constant deconstruction of gender roles and artistic identity becomes irrelevant and ALL artists are simply ‘doing their jobs’. A woman’s place is where her art is. 

Place to Place is at Humber Street Gallery in Hull until 31 March 2019. 

Kathryn Ogram is an Absolutely Cultured volunteer