film still showing a woman with blonde hair and red lipstick, screaming
Gina Birch 3 Minute Scream 1977 © Gina Birch

Women in Revolt: Art and Activism in the UK 1970-1990Tate Britain, until 7 April 2024.

CREAM researchers Prof. Roshini Kempadoo and Dr. Lucy Reynolds are part of Women in Revolt: Art and Activism in the UK 1970-1990, a major survey of feminist art by over 100 women artists and collectives working in the UK. 

Women in Revolt: Art and Activism in the UK 1970-1990, at Tate Britain, presents a survey of artists who were both shaped by and who vocally contributed to the burgeoning Anglo-American women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s. The artworks reflect the wilful refusal of many women to accept the world as it was. Across six galleries, the anger, disobedience, and unruliness of women as they protested the systematic rendering of the feminine as an inferior feature alongside expressions of optimism and hope for a new, radical, and more equal society.  

The exhibition features two photographic installations by Kempadoo, whose work with Format Picture Agency specialised in documenting Black communities, women’s groups, and trade union activities. Kempadoo’s My Daughter’s Mind (1984-85) collages photographs of Asian women and their families with captions that describe the stereotypical expectations they faced concerning work, marriage, and family. In [Untitled] from the series Presence (1990), the last artwork displayed in the exhibition, Kempadoo features in a series of mock British fashion magazines edited to include photographs of her as the front-page model. This intervention sought to challenge the standards of the fashion and beauty industry where the beauty of women of colour was rarely celebrated. Alongside her challenge, a series of fictional titles and captions alluding to the contents of each magazine surround her image, highlight the relationship between capitalism the commodification of Black women’s bodies. 

Reynolds contributed as the curatorial adviser of Women in Revolt, working with the exhibition’s curator Linsey Young. To accompany the gallery exhibition, Reynolds was invited to programme Through a Radical Lens, a six-part screening and conversation series featuring the film and video practices of UK-based feminist artists and collectives. The programme brings together historic and rarely seen films and video works with those by contemporary moving image artists, including works by Vivienne Dick, W.I.T.C.H, Sandra Lahire, Pratibha Parmar, and Vera Productions.  

Women in Revolt borrows its title from the essay ‘Patriarchal Attitudes: The Case for Women in Revolt by English,’ by Eva Figes, a writer known for her novels, literary criticism, and studies on feminism. The decades surveyed in the exhibition was a time of actively politicisation of the women’s liberation movement, characterised by intense and fragmented feminist intellectual work grappling with and contesting the unspoken grounds of women’s subordination across experiences of race, class, sexuality, and disability. As Althea Greenan, Griselda Pollock, and Marlene Smith, the exhibition’s advisory group, write in the accompanying catalogue, the movement should also be remembered as a “cultural movement, re-shaping art, literature and film.”  

The interdependence between feminist politics and culture is strongly represented throughout the exhibition. Artworks exploring a wide range of subjects – pregnancy, motherhood, paid and unpaid domestic work, gendered violence, police brutality, and everyday racism and homophobia – are accompanied by printed ephemera, posters, and photographs capturing numerous protests and gatherings of women. Women in Revolt opens with photographs from Chandra Fraser and Sue Crockford’s film, A Woman’s Place (1971), documenting the first Women’s Liberation Conference in Oxford – an important milestone in British feminist history. Issues of Spare Rib, the largest feminist magazine associated with the women’s liberation movement, and smaller printed newsletters circulated by feminist workshops and groups such as Shrew, the newsletter for the London Women’s Workshop, and Speak Out, the newsletter for the Black Brixton Women’s Group, accompany artworks by Margaret Harrison, Penny Slinger, Lubaina Himid, Claudette Johnson, and many more. This arrangement stresses how fundamental the activities of consciousness raising groups, grassroots organisations, and union campaigning, were to Britain’s feminist artistic production throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and how art’s engagement with feminist politics informed and transformed its categories, concepts, and forms. 

The exhibition’s end coincides with the resignation of Margaret Thatcher, concluding eleven years of her premiership as the country’s Prime Minister. The legislations implemented during this period of so-called Thatcherism were challenged by many of the protests depicted in the exhibition, including those in response to Section 28, the housing of nuclear cruise missiles in Greenham Common, and the AIDS crisis. 

The screening series curated by Reynolds will conclude with the two-day conference, Women in Revolt: radical acts, contemporary resonances, organised by Reynolds and other institutional partners, and supported by CREAM. The conference is hosted by Tate Britain, taking place at the gallery between 22 and 23 March 2024, with an opening reception at Chelsea Space on 21 March. The conference will explore the live and performance-based arts, sound and moving image practices that were an integral part of feminist creative and campaigning activities of the 1970s and 1980s. 

Roshini Kempadoo is featured in Tough!, Episode 6 of the Women in Revolt podcast, a six-part mini-series which explores art, activism and the women’s movement in the UK in the 1970s and 80s. In this episode, Kempadoo reflects on her work My Daughter’s Mind as a response to the political climate in the 1980s.

Women in Revolt: Art and Activism in the UK 1970-1990 runs at Tate Britain until 7 April 2024. Afterwards the exhibition will tour to National Galleries Scotland: Modern, Edinburgh (25 May 2024 – 26 January 2025) and to the Whitworth Gallery, The University of Manchester (7 March – 1 June 2025).  

Through a Radical Lens runs between December 2023 and March 2024 at the Clore Auditorium, Tate Britain, and includes further related screenings at Chelsea Space, and the BFI Southbank. 

Press reviews 

‘Humorous, trenchant, furious, messy, visionary, riotous – as full of words as images, bursting right out of the gallery’ The Guardian  

‘Vicious, searing, necessary stuff’ TimeOut London  

‘Finally these radical artists get their moment’ The Independent  

‘This exhibition couldn’t be more important’ Studio International