London-based British Library’s new exhibition ‘Unfinished Business: The Fight for Womens Rights’, which will begin later this October, has an interesting connection to India, dating back to 1900s.
The exhibition is set to showcase how the work of contemporary feminist activism in the UK has its roots in the long and complex history of women’s rights. From personal diaries, banners and protest fashion to subversive literature, film, music and art, women’s voices and stories form the foundation of the exhibition.
Highlights include records of surveillance carried out on Sophia Duleep Singh, one of Queen Victoria’s goddaughters and a grandchild of Punjab’s Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who used her status to support campaigns for women’s suffrage in the UK, alongside her handwritten diary from 1907.
Global events of 2020, including the coronavirus pandemic and renewed momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, have thrown the inequalities people face into even sharper relief. This exhibition and accompanying events programme seek to amplify the voices of those who lived experiences of challenging injustice and campaigning for change, the gallery said in a note on the exhibition.
The first edition of Jane Austen’s debut novel, Sense and Sensibility, which was anonymously published ‘By a Lady’ in 1811, and a handwritten draft of ‘Middlemarch’ (1871-72) by Mary Anne Evans, under the pen name George Eliot will also be exhibited.
The exhibition is also highlighted by one of the founding works of feminist philosophy, Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’, which argues that women should be educated so they can take an active role in shaping society.
According to the exhibition’s lead curator Dr Polly Russell, “as the national library of the UK, the British Library has a responsibility to highlight and explore the countless histories and testimonies that can be found within our collections. I have loved working with a range of contemporary activists, thinkers, scholars and leaders to craft an exhibition that connects the current moment of feminist activism and agitation with the history of women’s rights in the UK. Whilst never far from the headlines, women’s rights have taken centre stage over recent months with coronavirus throwing issues such as reproductive rights and domestic violence into sharp relief. This moment reminds us that that women’s rights are, indeed, unfinished business.”
The Library said: “Alongside ‘Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights’, Khadija Saye’s self-portrait series, Khadija Saye: in this space we breathe, will be on display from December 2020 to May 2021. Composed of nine powerfully evocative self-portrait, silk-screen prints by Gambian-British artist Khadija Saye, who was tragically killed in the Grenfell fire of 2017, the series demonstrates Saye’s deep concern with ‘how trauma is embodied in the black experience’, as well as her enduring fascination with Gambian traditions of spirituality.”
The exhibition runs from October 23, 2020 to February 21, 2021.