Exhibition spotlights women’s sculpture in story of modern British art

A unique exhibition of sculptures by a diverse range of women artists now on show in Nottingham is aiming to redefine British Sculpture in the post-war era.

Breaking the Mould is a free-to-attend Arts Council Collection Touring Exhibition at the Djanogly Gallery, Lakeside Arts on University Park in Nottingham until Sunday 9th January 2022.

With work from fifty women sculptors spanning more than 70 years, the exhibition explores the enormous contributions made by women to the field of modern and contemporary sculpture. It sets out to challenge the many accounts of British sculpture that have often marginalised women or even airbrushed their work out of the art historical canon altogether.

L-R: Icon, 1957 by Barbara Hepworth; Eriabo Part of Audience and Iriabo and Child Part of Audience, 1986 by Sokari Douglas Camp; NUD CYCLADIC 7, 2010 by Sarah Lucas.

The fifty pieces on show range from sculpture to installation art using a wide range of materials including human hair, ceramic, paper, flowers and nylon tights.

The inspiration for the show was to challenge and change perceptions by the global art market, critics, and the viewing public that sculpture is traditionally a male occupation – a heroic wrestling match between the artist and heavy-duty materials such as stone, wood, and bronze.

The show also raises questions about the barriers that have existed for women in the world of sculpture – such as prejudice in art schools, the costs of materials and studio space and the pressures of raising children.

A drawing by Barbara Hepworth, Reconstruction (1947), the first work by a sculptor purchased for the Collection is included in the exhibition alongside her wooden sculpture Icon (1957). Also on show is Katie Cuddon’s A Problem of Departure (2013), a ceramic sculpture of a pillow clasped between dimpled thighs; as well as Rose Finn-Kelcey’s God’s Bog (2001), a toilet cast in Jesmonite curling delicately like a seashell.

Neil Walker, Head of Visual Arts Programming, Lakeside

Head of Visual Arts Programming at Lakeside, Neil Walker, said: “Breaking the Mould is a unique exhibition in that it’s the first major survey of women’s sculpture to have taken place in this country. The Arts Council Collection has curated this fascinating selection from its 250 acquisitions of sculpture by more than 150 artists. The tour is an important milestone on the way to a greater public understanding and appreciation of the huge contribution these artists have made and are making to the diversification of what we term sculpture.”

‘Head’, Elizabeth Frink, 1959

The exhibition is arranged into three sections: Figured, Formed and Found. These broad themes enable a range of shared concerns to emerge across time, space and material. Several of the labels accompanying the works have been written by a range of contributors including fellow artists, curators and community groups. These voices highlight the need for sustained collective action to broaden representation within the field of sculpture.

Sculptor and installation artist, Permindar Kaur, at work in her studio.

One of the exhibitors is the Nottingham-born artist Permindar Kaur – a sculpture and installation artist exhibiting internationally. Her distinctive style incorporates childhood objects and domestic spaces to explore territory and cultural identity. Permindar said:

“I’m very pleased to have my work included in this major survey exhibition of post war sculpture by women artists. It’s fascinating to see key earlier works from major figures, alongside up-and-coming early career artists. Innocence (1993) is a key seminal work of mine, marking a shift from work predominantly about culture and identity to that of the home. The child’s garment is bearing a dagger, begging the question, why would the innocent child require such means of defence.”

A Breaking the Mould Study Day on Saturday 4th December is a further opportunity for art-lovers to meet a panel of leading artists, curators and scholars who will shed light on the role of women in sculpture. The in-person event at the Djanogly Theatre between 10am and 4pm, will also be live-streamed on the Lakeside website.

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