MPs Jess Phillips, Preet Kaur Gill and Caroline Spelman choose artworks at new Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s exhibition – Women Power Protest

Ahead of the opening of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s new major all-female contemporary art exhibition – Women Power Protest – MPs Jess Phillips (MP for Yardley), Preet Kaur Gill (MP for Edgbaston) and Dame Caroline Spelman (MP for Meriden) visited the museum to choose their favourite artworks.

The three MPs were given a sneak peek at the exhibition which was programmed as part of the Arts Council Collection’s (ACC) National Partnership Programme and brings together artworks from the ACC and Birmingham’s own collection. Opening to the public on Saturday 10th November, the show takes a contemporary look at women’s rights in the anniversary year of the first women getting the right to vote.

The MPs were shown around by curator Emalee Beddoes-Davis and asked to pick their favourite artworks. Their choices will be highlighted in the display.

The visit came ahead of an event on Saturday 17th November at BMAG where all three MPs will be joined by Shabana Mahmood (MP for Ladywood) for a discussion to mark 100 years since the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act passed, allowing women to stand for Parliament. The discussion will be chaired by leading feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.

Jess Phillips

Chosen by Jess Phillips, Cerne Abbas Lady: Self Portrait (1985) by Liz Rideal, is an Arts Council Collection work created from a collage of photobooth prints to depict a female version of the Cerne Abbas giant. The original giant is carved into the landscape in a small village in Dorset and this version focuses on the 20th century female body.

Jess said of the artwork: “The point is that it’s real and it is about representing women that haven’t been represented. The Cerne Abbas Giant has been there since the prehistoric era as an image of man…so to me to have something the represents the image of a woman, that should be how we were always presented in our beauty. I wish it had always been there (on that hill) so that woman wasn’t always just a vision of male gaze.”

Dame Caroline Spelman

Caroline Spelman picked a colourful self-portrait by Birmingham-based painter and visual artist Emily Sparkes called An Ode to Christian Joy (2015). The painting, which is part of Birmingham’s permanent collection, shows the artist dressed in a vibrant home-made outfit in tribute to the costume designer Christian Joy.

Caroline said: “I really love to support young artists. She’s young and empowered and referencing the great history of women’s portraiture with the lovely traditional background but done in a completely new way.”

Preet Kaur Gill

The artwork picked by Preet Kaur Gill was Arts Council Collection work Mr close-friend-of-the-family pays a visit whilst everyone else is out (1985) by Sonia Boyce. The charcoal drawing explores the abuse of trust experienced by a young woman and reflects some of Boyce’s concerns about power relationships.

Preet said: “As a parent, and as a mother, it’s your worse fear that your child, who is vulnerable, being abused and you’re not able to protect them. That’s the first thing that resonated with me.

“We don’t focus enough on victims; we don’t want to see, feel or even read sometimes their testimonies because as a society we can’t accept that abuse is an inherent issue grounded in the inequalities that women face. It’s an image that needs to be here in this exhibition, people do need to feel uncomfortable and people do need to think that this is sadly happening all the time around us.”  

Limited free tickets are available for the Women in Parliament event on Saturday 17th November and can be booked at www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag/whats-on/women-in-parliament-past-present-and-future.

The Women Power Protest exhibition is an Arts Council Collection National Partners exhibition and runs from Saturday 10th November 2018 to Sunday 31st March 2019 www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag/whats-on/women-power-protest.

The exhibition will be marked with afternoon of performances on Saturday 17th November ahead of the MPs event www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag/whats-on/women-power-protest-celebration-day.