The poster features artwork by Tasha Pick, which can be seen at the exhibition.Tom Nuttall

Showcasing a range of student artwork and pieces from Churchill’s own art collection, Responses to Feminism: Women in Art aims to provoke discussions around feminism, whilst also creating a ‘space on the walls’ for those less represented within the university’s existing art collections. I met with Fenja Akinde-Hummel, Mimi Robson and Emily Moon, curators and co-chairs of Churchill Femsoc, to discuss their motivations behind the exhibition, as well as preview of some their favourite pieces.

“this exhibition transgresses the normative power relations of its exhibit space”

To house the exhibition, the curators have secured the Jock Colville Hall, an impressive and expansive space in Churchill’s Archive Centre. Emblematic of the building’s seventies architectural aesthetic, the hall’s large window is slatted with concrete panelling. As Fenja explains her plans for the lay-out of the exhibition, there’s a striking attention to detail. Wooden wall-panelling – installed and designed by Tom Bacon – will echo the concrete columns of the hall as well as invoke a ‘labyrinthine’ feel where visitors are encouraged to explore and wind their way through the art work. Fenja points out the irony of the list of names that emblazon the hall’s wall – a roll call of white male donors to the college. There’s a sense that this exhibition transgresses the normative power relations of its exhibit space, and also an impression that its location within Churchill is of particular importance. A ‘male dominated’ college which leans towards science subjects, Mimi explains how part of their motivation behind the exhibition is to increase the visibility of women and creativity within this particular space.

A collage by Cleo Newton is one of the many student artworks on display.Cleo Newton

The exhibition’s interest will easily transcend the sphere of this individual college, however. Spanning a range of media, the pieces the curators have secured are fresh, sometimes necessarily challenging, but always exciting. An embroidered tapestry from duo AYDUA (India Ayles and Amy Murgatroyd) will hang from the walls. Phoebe Thompson’s cartoons will be on display, as well as Cleo Newton’s collage and stitching work. Jade Cuttle will be bravely exhibiting her journal as part of the event, as well as providing an arresting sculpture involving salad and a silver cloche. They’ll be photographic projects and performance pieces too, as well as work from Amy Grounsell, Nesta, Emily Moon, Angelica von Clerke, Nadia and Evelyn Whorrall-Campbell. Alongside these engaging pieces of student art, examples of work from the college’s own collection will be on display, including the work of renowned modernist Helen Chadwick.

“they are as intrigued by the audience’s responses as the responses offered within the artwork itself”

The exhibition’s poster features art from Tasha Pick combined with graphics by Tom Nuttall: a strikingly beautiful sketch of a woman with menstrual blood flowing. Emily mentions the worries Churchill voiced about the palatability of using this image as the event’s poster. The exhibition itself, however, will brilliantly refuse to shy away from taboo, aiming to provoke debate and discussion instead. When I ask Fenja, Mimi and Emily why the exhibition’s title is Responses to Feminism rather than simply ‘Feminist Artwork’, their answer is immediate: they are as intrigued by the audience’s responses as the responses offered within the artwork itself. They want people to be challenged by the art, to comment and interact with what they see – there will be a book for visitors to record the responses and conversations raised by the artwork. ’We want people to ask ‘how is that feminism?’ and then interrogate and diversify their previous conceptions’, Fenja comments. 

Photography by Fenja Akindle-Hummel will also feature in the exhibitionFenja Akindle-Hummel

This is a grassroots exhibition but with an understanding of its place within Cambridge’s wider art community. Mimi discusses the need for a ‘space on the walls’ for female creativity, locating the exhibition within a desire to challenge the lack of art by women, as well as images of women, displayed in Cambridge colleges. They aim to forge a creative space for women, especially women of colour, who Fenja points out routinely ‘fail to see their everyday experiences reflected in mainstream art, as well as within the university’s art collections.’ The exhibition’s focus on intersectionality is facilitated by a photography project recording the experiences of women of colour around the university, as well as a performance art display.

Fenja, Mimi and Emily hope the exhibition will ‘contribute something to the discourse about the patriarchy and facilitate a discussion about how to challenge it.’ The art is stimulating and beautiful, important both aesthetically and ideologically. I’m sure this exhibition will invite a diverse, valuable and important discourse around feminism, as well as challenging the normalisation of visual images that marginalise and objectify women.

Opening on Sunday 26th March at 7:30pm, Responses to Feminism: Women in Art will be open until 3rd March in the Jock Colville Hall, Churchill College. You can hear Fenja and Mimi interviewed in this week's episode on The Vulture Show, available as a free podcast from iTunes

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