Leeds Art Gallery have been working with their Youth Collective and in partnership with the University of Huddersfield and the University of Leeds on an exciting new project on women’s representation of women.
It all started at an event in which a group of colleagues from Leeds Museums and Galleries, the University of Huddersfield and the University of Leeds were brought together and in a speed dating fashion were asked to come up with ideas to collaborate and apply for some seed corn funding from the University of Huddersfield. That’s where Laura Claveria, our Assistant Curator of Works on Paper at Leeds Art Gallery, and Nancy Thumim, Associate Professor in Media and Communication from the University of Leeds, met. In only a few minutes, fantastic ideas started to flow.
Soon after that initial meeting, Angie Thompson, our Youth Curator, and Allie Carr, Artist and Lecturer on Contemporary Art and Illustration from the University of Huddersfield, joined the team and helped us shape the project. Despite our different backgrounds, we had some important things in common: we were enthusiastic about art, we believed in its potential to empower young women and wanted to learn more about how women have represented other women across history.
The result was a series of workshops in which a group of young women recruited from our Youth Collective explored a set of 16 works on paper from our collection. Pre-selecting those artworks was not a straight-forward task though. Laura had to go through thousands of records to check those that met our criteria: all needed to be done by women, and all needed to show women in them. Despite the important limitations this research had, it was striking to realise the strong imbalance between male and women artists in the collection, with women much less represented. Thankfully we are working to correct this, but it definitely shows a trend in the past which we felt it was worth discussing with our group of young women.
The 16 works on paper included a wide range of media (e.g. ink and pencil drawings, etchings, woodcuts, watercolours, photography, etc.) and covered from the late 1700s to the present day. There were amazing artists represented including Angelica Kauffmann, Gwen John, Joan Moore, Muriel Metcalfe and Paula Rego. All of them led us to some fascinating discussions: from art education for women to women’s role in the art world, and importantly, the way many women artists have been overshadowed by their male relatives or partners.
Soon afterwards and under Allie’s guidance, the group selected a smaller group of pieces and drew and copied some details to help them look closely at the works. Due to the interest the young women had in photography Allie also led a photography workshop in which every participant had to both make a portrait of and be the sitter for another colleague inspired by the works they had selected. It was extremely interesting to see them posing in different characters and talking about fashion, trends and ideas of beauty.
During the next session, the group continued discussion of female representation and had further opportunity to study the works on paper. Then working with the printed portrait photography images of the members of the Youth Collective and using a variety of pencil shades, the group drew their interpretation of the sketches on works on paper to frame their portrait photographs. Following on, we enjoyed discussing the artwork they had produced, talking about female artists past and present and listening to other people’s points of view and evaluating the session.
Here are some quotes from our Leeds Art Gallery Youth Collective members who took part in both workshops…
‘I enjoyed the selection process of choosing the works on paper. The perception of these female artists has changed. I didn’t know it was difficult to be an artist in the Victorian times.
I’m very impressed’ – Olivia
‘It’s a testament to how pioneering these women were to create a greater platform for female artists today’ – Teagan
‘I have really enjoyed taking our time to explore and discuss the works on paper. I have built my knowledge and going behind the scenes was exciting’ – Cheryl
‘We have used original art and produced art reflecting our point of view’ – Lily
‘I enjoyed going behind the scenes and taking photographs plus taking our time during the workshops, there is no right or wrong interpretation’ – Emily
‘The photography element to the workshop was really interesting’ – Hannah
By Angie Thompson, Youth Engagement Officer and Laura Claveria, Assistant Curator of Fine Art.