Feminist Library on Loan and Expressions
July – August, 2018
Review by Ashley Janke
A forked path in the Showroom’s ‘Summer Program’ begins with two desks, one hosting representatives from the ‘Feminist Library on Loan’, an installation of selected material from artist in residence Minna Haukka, and the other from ‘Expressions’, an exhibition of young women of colour going to school in the Church Street Ward developed by Rebecca Buckman. These representatives act as available guides to a large installation and complimentary program with seemingly infinite points of entry.
From an assemblage of magazine clippings featuring 100 years of women, to a fluorescent pink ‘Pro-Choice’ high visibility vest, the ‘Expressions’ and the ‘Feminist Library on Loan’ overlap works, archival material and everyday objects in a comprehensive installation which resonates egalitarian objectives, taking pains to create an accessible environment. Rather than stark fluorescent lighting, bright, natural light beams in from the windows of the industrial building, feeding leafy plants scattered throughout the space. Comfy, worn couches and a kettle available to use all suggest the audience is meant to stay and look around leisurely while a corner with children’s books extends a hand to parents who may bring their kids. Each viewer can browse through selected books and zines and unpack four decades of women’s perspectives – and in doing this, it becomes clear that little hierarchy exists between the objects, yet each item is a loaded rabbit’s hole, able to transport the viewer to a time and place beyond the gallery walls.
In the front of the room, collages and digital prints by young artists investigating personal identity politics line the walls. These works are the product of wellness and sisterhood workshops lead by Buckman over the past two years. In critical response to the lack of women of colour in the UK arts sector, Buckman reached into the Church Street Ward to amplify the voices of its young women residence. Through multiple collaborations and support from the Four Feathers Youth Club, Buckman crafted a platform for reflection, production and resilience. This project comes at a critical moment when London’s youth services are in steep decline. According to a recent report by the BBC, over 81 centres for young people have closed their doors since 2011.
Protest posters, manifesto writings, and photographs tell an ongoing story of unity and perseverance in the precarious quest for equality and accepted difference. It is uncanny to watch a VHS tape of activists in the 1990s documenting their need for The Feminist Library, when the public project recently survived the threat of eviction in 2016.
Haukka and Buckman place women-identifying-people from multiple generations and backgrounds in conversation with each other through events and workshops such as dance performances and creative writing classes that focus on exploration and expression. The production of written work by women in the area adds documentation from women in Westminster and the surrounding area now to the comprehensive herstories gathered and maintained by The Feminist Library since the Women’s Liberation Movement in 1975.
Placing the ‘Expressions’ exhibition in direct dialogue with the ‘Feminist Library on Loan’ at the Showroom shows that local histories of women and non-binary people are important. Together, the two projects manifest a visible platform exposing the experiences of those living in the Church Street Ward in the context of feminist chronicles.