'Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights' opens at the British Library and across the UK

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'Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights' opens at the British Library and across the UK
Unfinished Business exhibition at the British Library. Photo: David Jensen.

LONDON.- Offering a fresh take on women’s rights, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights (23 October 2020 – 21 February 2021) is divided into Body, Mind and Voice, with each section introducing a contemporary activist organisation working in the UK today before exploring the history behind the issues their campaigns tackle through a variety of items from the British Library’s collections and lenders.

Featuring campaigns by gal-dem, Bloody Good Period, Now for Northern Ireland, STEMettes, United Voices of the World, Fawcett Society, Women for Refugee Women, Glasgow Women’s Library and LD Comics, the exhibition highlights how women and their allies have fought for equality with passion, imagination, humour and tenacity.

Including personal diaries, subversive literature, protest fashion and banners, women’s voices and stories form the basis of the exhibition. Highlights include:

• Jameela Jamil’s weighing scales, which Jamil smashed in response to a body-shaming meme in 2018

• Protest poems written on toilet paper in Holloway Prison by Sylvia Pankhurst who was imprisoned for seditious activity in January 1921

• Peitaw, one of a series of tintype self–portraits created by Gambian-British artist Khadija Saye, which was displayed in the Diaspora Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2017, where Saye was the youngest exhibitor

• First edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, one of the founding works of feminist philosophy

• Records of surveillance carried out on Sophia Duleep Singh, one of Queen Victoria’s goddaughters who used her status to support campaigns for women’s suffrage in the UK, alongside her handwritten diary from 1907

• No More Page Three campaign t-shirt, which Dr Caroline Lucas MP wore at a debate on media sexism in 2013

Dr Polly Russell, lead curator of Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights at the British Library, said: ‘When Covid-19 hit the UK earlier this year, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, which has been over three years in the making, was almost ready to open. Covid-19 and the renewed focus on the Black Lives Matter movement have highlighted that the injustices we face are often dependent on our gender, race, or other social characteristics. It therefore feels particularly poignant for this exhibition, which explores the riveting and ongoing story of women and their allies to be taken seriously, treated fairly and to change the world for the better, to be opening now and reminding us that women’s rights are unfinished business.’

Khadija Saye: in this space we breathe (3 December 2020 – 2 May 2021) 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 in the free Entrance Hall Gallery from 3 December 2020 to 2 May 2021.

Composed of nine powerfully evocative 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’ and her exploration of her Gambian heritage and mixed-faith background. Khadija photographed herself with objects handed down to her by her parents, which have spiritual and religious significance to her Christian mother, Muslim father and Gambian traditions of spirituality.

Displays in public libraries to open across the UK
Pop-up panel displays drawing on the main themes of the exhibition – from bodily autonomy and the right to education to self-expression and protest – will open in public libraries around the UK through the Living Knowledge Network.

Drawing on each library’s collections and regional connections to the fight for women’s rights, a programme of events and activities will be hosted online (www.bl.uk/lkn-events) to enable people to take part in the nationwide conversation. Curated by libraries, events will include online zine workshops, author talks and celebrations of unsung local luminaries.

The Living Knowledge Network is a UK-wide partnership of national and public libraries where ideas are shared and connections are sparked between libraries, their collections and their people.

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