Women's Work, Brixton, London, 1983-1985
I include Women's Work here because it was seminal to my development as an artist. It was a group of women artists and was one of the very active sub-groups within the amazing Brixton Artists Collective and the one with which I was most involved. Women's Work really was a project and involved many people, events, activities and exhibitions. The long-lasting friendships and working partnerships formed during my involvement with Women's Work were especially important as I hadn't studied in a UK art school. I worked with Françoise Dupré for many years after, still collaborate with Susan Timmins and maintain contact (largely through social media) with Rosie Martin, Rita Keegan, Marilyn Rogers and Jini Rawlings to name a few artists. We met every Saturday morning in the Brixton Art Gallery followed by tea, coffee and food at the Jacaranda Cafe round the corner. The group provided mutual support and a platform to advocate for women artists.
The group was founded in the summer of 1983. Women’s Work provided opportunities for unknown and local women artists and aimed to break barriers between professional and non-professional women artists and promote women’s art. Women’s Work had an inclusive policy and all artworks submitted were exhibited. Our primary aims were to curate exhibitions of work by women artists and organise related education activities. Membership evolved, although there was a solid core group of artists who drove the group forward, many of whom were active in the Brixton Artists Collective.
In the first 2 years, 1983 and 1984, Women’s Work organised two annual exhibitions. From 1985 one of the exhibitions was organised by and for Black women artists. The first Black women artists’ exhibition was Mirror Reflecting Darkly (June – July 1985) followed by Tangled Roots in 1986. I showed work in four of the exhibitions. The first exhibition: Women’s Work I (November – December 1983) was open to women living in South London. The second exhibition, Fertile Eye (Women's Work II, May - June 1984) was open to all women living or working in the Greater London Area (GLA). The third exhibition, Our Territory (Women's Work III, November 1984) was a national exhibition and was radically different because it only showed work made collectively and included women artists’ groups from Oxford, Leeds, Nottingham and other parts of the country. Altogether 18 projects were realised involving around 100 women; I was involved in two different projects, one with eight other members of Women's Work exploring identity and the other with my women in my evening class about women in art. We prepared a visual A-Z of women in art throughout the ages. In Love, Sex and Romance (Women's Work IV, October 1985), and while I didn't exhibit in Realising Power (1986), I photographed the whole show for the group. I also wrote a review of Women's Work VII, 'Women in View’ for the WASL Journal, Dec/Jan, l988.
Documentation was extremely important because women artists needed (and still need) to maintain their visibility. We also ensured every show was reviewed, usually in City Limits, although other writing appeared in various publications, such as Spare Rib. I was one of the editors for the publication we produced in 1986, Women's Work: Two Years in the Life of a Women Artists Group. We began work in spring 1985. The publication forms a record of the first two years of Women’s Work, part of the importance we ascribed to creating records of women artists' work and supporting our visibility. I was part of the publication editorial and design team, drawing on my experience from working on the Anglo-Soviet Journal, a publication produced by the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR where I worked throughout the period I was part of Women's Work.
We recognised the importance of education in relation to women's position in the world of art, for ourselves and the wider public. We developed an ambitious education programme which brought to Brixton well known feminist artists, art historians, critics and writers, including Mary Kelly, Kate Walker, Cath Tate, Amanda Sebestyen, Suzanne Perkins (Art Director at The Women's Press, 1978-1991) and Pam Gerrish Nunn. We organised the Women’s Eyes Conference during the Fertile Eye Exhibition (May - June 1984). The conference was chaired by Pam Gerrish Nunn and took place at the Strand Centre, Lambeth Community Education Institute.
There are a variety of personal accounts that members of the Brixton Artists Collective have written since it was founded in 1983. You can read Françoise Dupré's personal account of her involvement which includes information about her experience of Women's Work here. Andrew Hurman has compiled a detailed archive of the Collective, Brixton 50: Brixton Art Gallery Archive, 1983-1986. And in 2011 some former members of the Collective created a project called Brixton Calling! which aimed to reflect on the achievements of the group as well as create an archive for The National Archives at Tate Britain in London.
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