Come on Whitechapel. I walked into your gallery with high hopes that this exhibition would reignite my passion for learning about the female artists and prove that, despite recent politics, all hope is not lost. But indeed all hope is not lost, as this is only the beginning for taking bigger steps and Whitechapel Gallery has proved so with it’s latest exhibition. My recent visit to London led to becoming my first trip to Whitechapel Gallery, I’d spent the majority of the day visiting the creative genius of Wolfgang Tillman at Tate Modern and so I was running high on inspiration, looking forward to being further inspired before I went on to visit the underwhelming Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery (That’s another story).
When I arrived at Whitechapel it was smaller than I anticipated but taking the motto of “small things hide big surprises” in mind I decided not to pre-judge as the old architecture of the building contrasting to its modern interior is a capturing style. The inside of the venue was easy to explore, there only seemed to be the ground and 1st floor, so by simply following the signs we made our way up to Terrains of The Body. The description of the show on the Whitechapel Gallery website states:
Drawn from the National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, U.S.), this collection display showcases photography and video work by seventeen contemporary artists from around the world. By turning their camera to women, including themselves, these artists embrace the female body as a vital medium for storytelling, expressing identity and reflecting individual and collective experience.
It then went on to list some of the artists it features such as; Marina Abramović, Rineke Dijkstra and one of my personal favourites, Nan Goldin. Since my A-Level days I have been obsessed and emotionally moved by the contributions of women to the Arts and so the stakes were high for this exhibition.
Let’s first talk about the positive, it was free. I am always sold on a free exhibition, I am especially appreciative because I understand what hard work goes on behind the scenes to make this exhibit a possibility. Secondly, I felt it was a great opportunity to educate the general public about the contribution of women in photography and video. I have visited the exhibition and formed my view because I have conducted research in this area; but for people who are not as all-knowing or even those who are not creative at all, then this is an excellent opportunity to enlighten the public and get them interested.
However, back tracking on that point brings me to the negatives. If you are, like myself, educated on the subject of women in the arts and female photographers through history then you would be severely devastated at how the entire career of these women were scaled down and summed up in one image. Just one image or one video. This is unfair, especially for artists such as Marina Abramović, who explores different mediums, but is only featured in one image of her riding on a horse with a white flag. I understand that people could walk away from this and quite easily discover more themselves but this isn’t enticing them in with enough rich content to convince them it’s worth it. This lack of worth is shown in how small the exhibit room is and how only 17 artists are shown, this does not nearly convey enough dedication to the women artists in the past or present. Instead it feels like it is leading up to something bigger (hopefully) like the Women’s March growing bigger and stronger in numbers, there can be an exhibition that leads on from Whitechapel Gallery’s Terrains of the Body which features say 100 women artists showcased through the whole floor of a gallery.
Considering these personal pros and cons, I’d still recommend it to people who will be visiting London and may benefit from popping in for a leisurely view. You may have a limited knowledge or a vast knowledge of these women and despite the small venue, there is a sense of pride to know that this is one step closer to something much bigger.
‘Terrains of the Body: Photography from the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ is open at Whitechapel Gallery in London from 18th January to the 16th April 2017. The image used is copyrighted under © Hellen van Meene and Yancey Richardson Gallery.