Thursday, February 28, 2019

Still I Rise

Taking its title from Maya Angelou's poem of defiance, a text I have used over the years to try and expose the monocultural GCSE students of rural East Sussex to issues of difference, Still I Rise is an exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion that explores the history of resistance and alternative forms of living through the prism of gender. Covering a wide range of forms, from art to architecture and graphic design to photography, it is a cornucopia of feminist and gay protest and perspectives.

The display of black and white photographs at the front of the gallery sets the tone with images of mass street demonstrations, including a series from the 1990s in support of disability rights. This is followed by a wall of posters produced by grassroots feminist and queer movements, amongst them the iconic 1975 'So long as women are not free the people are not free' poster by the See Red Women's Workshop.

An area that I had previously been unaware of was use of the built environment to explore feminist ways of living. In the centre of the gallery space is a model of communitarian socialist architect Alice Constance Austin's 1910 design for common dwelling and working. Austin believed that single-family units were a barrier to improving life for women, a theme carried on in the 1980s by the Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative in London and Birmingham, whose ideas are presented in 3-D and on film.

In an age where protest seems to have been reborn with the Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, it is timely to be reminded of the lineage of identity resistance - and there are also some pieces in the exhibition, such as early Stonewall AIDS awareness art, that show just how far we have come; but the most powerful images, for me, were Eduardo Gil's photographs of marches in early 1980s Argentina. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo were a collective of women whose children had 'disappeared' during the state terrorism of the fascist junta that ruled between 1976 and 1983. They were successful in exposing human rights violations and pressing successive governments for answers. The stark monochrome images are a vivid portrayal of the power of women, irrespective of age and class.

Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 2 is at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea until Monday 27th May. Admission is free.