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‘Women in Revolt! Art And Activism in the UK 1970-1990’ – Pratibha Parmar, Sutapa Biswas, and co-curator Inga Fraser (video)

‘Women in Revolt! Art And Activism in the UK 1970-1990’ – Pratibha Parmar, Sutapa Biswas, and co-curator Inga Fraser (video)

We take a detailed look at one of the largest art exhibitions of its type ever mounted in the UK and speak to two artists whose work features prominently and look at work created also by Poulomi Desai and Chila Kumari Singh Burman, among others…

THERE are more than 100 women artists whose work is displayed in the ‘Women in Revolt! Art an Activism 1970-1990’ exhibition at Tate Britain.

Described as a “landmark exhibition of feminist art in the UK from 1970 to 1990”, it contains work by many artists of colour – whose work often was ignored, marginalised or dismissed at the time of its creation.

Covering painting, drawing, photography, textiles, printmaking, film, sculpture and archival materials, it is believed to be the largest and most extensive exhibition of its type in recent memory in the UK.

“Women in Revolt! platforms many women, who despite long careers, have been largely left outside the artistic narratives of the time,” says the press release. interviewed two leading and prominent artists about their work on display at ‘Women in Revolt!

Pratibha Parmar is an artist filmmaker, who has made a wide variety of films including more recently, directing for US TV and whose last major award-winning work, ‘My Name is Andrea’ (2022) is a hybrid drama- documentary that explores the work of prominent US feminist and activist, Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005), and features actors Andrea Riseborough (‘To Leslie’) and Amandla Stenberg (‘Bodies, Bodies, Bodies’).

Two of Parmar’s early seminal videos feature in ‘Women in Revolt’ – she talks about both ‘Sari Red’ (1988) and ‘Reframing Aids’ (1987) – both films bring subjects on the margins into the mainstream and do so with a force and conviction rarely matched for the time. Unique and powerful, they present an alternative framing to the one employed by the mass media and many institutions and bodies that have the power to control narratives.

Watch our interview with Parmar here talking about both works…

Artist Sutapa Biswas’ ‘Housewives with Steak-Knives’ (1985) is an arresting and startling painting and puts both the energy and fury of the Kali centre stage – it is one of the most striking works in the whole exhibition and do spend time in front of it!

Biswas talks in depth about what led her to making the painting and how it was driven by her experiences as a student at Leeds University – and wanting academia to see her as a woman artist from the global South with a different perspective informed by the experiences of Colonialism and Imperialism.

Watch Biswas talk about her seminal painting in detail and with it just behind her…

Among the artists being showcased for the first time in such a wide social and political context is Poulomi Desai, whose pioneering and pathbreaking work gives appropriate place to the role of Jayaben Desai, who led the so-called ‘Sari Strikers’ as they were dubbed, in the industrial dispute at the Grunswick photo processing plant in Willesden, north London, in 1976. The sari-clad Desai led a group of South Asian and black workers to campaign for better pay and more rights – and initially the big trade unions were wary and many had members who were openly racist and had come out in support of Conservative MP Enoch Powell – who had claimed the country was being failed by immigration and that Commonwealth citizens who had been encouraged to come to Britain should now be made to leave. The comments were hugely controversial and led to increased attacks, both physical and verbal, on Afro-Asian communities and fostered an atmosphere of fear and dread among minority citizens of colour trying simply to go about their daily business and survive. Biswas says her painting is very much a response to the time and a sort of clarion call to resist and not be cowered.

See Poulomi Desai ‘We are the Lions’ and Jayaben Desai pictured prominently centre

There are many photographs of the Grunwick dispute and Jayaben’s unlikely leadership.

Poulomi Desai was presented with an Asian Achievers Awards in 2023 for the body of her work as an artist and her seminal Jayaben Desai exhibition, ‘We are the lions’, displayed in 2016 and covered by acv –, is featured in this exhibition too.

Editions of Mukti, the South Asian feminist magazine first published in 1983 are on display

There is also a whole section devoted to ‘Mukti’- the magazine Chila Kumari Singh Burman help to found alongside a group of South Asian women in the 1980s – it was a mix of art, activism and practical information directed at women of colour who were largely invisible at the time in the mainstream media. It was as Burman has said before inspired by “Bollywood bling” but with a core of feminist resistance at its heart too.

In our third and final interview with co-curator Inga Fraser, she explains how the exhibition was put together and looks forward to time when the exhibition will go on tour around the country when its time at Tate Britain will close and be reborn elsewhere… (see listings below – the exhibition will go on until June 2025).

The curators behind Tate Britain’s ‘Women in Revolt!’ are Linsey Young, Zuzana Flaskova, Hannah Marsh, and Inga Fraser, who features in our video and discusses why the work of Parmar, Biswas, Burman and other Asian artists is included in the exhibition.

Here is the list of artists’ of South Asian origin (as known to us) and whose work is on display as part of ‘Women in Revolt!’ – in addition to those mentioned above…

Among them are Zarina Bhimji; Bhajan Hunan; Roshini Kempadoo; Mumtaz Karimji; Samena Rana; Symrath Patti; Gurminder Sikand; Shanti Thomas.

Women In Revolt! Art and Activism 1970-1990” Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1 4RG (November 8- 2023 until April 7 2024)
Tickets/admission details:

Women in Revolt! will tour to National Galleries Scotland: Modern, Edinburgh (May 25 2024 – January 2025) and to The Whitworth, The University of Manchester (March 7 2024- June 1 2025)

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture