Anita Corbin – First Women at Dyson Gallery
There are many buildings in London, old and new, where portraits of severe-looking men stare you down through quiet corridors. Universities, museums, galleries, company offices are often guilty of honouring the achievements of men and minimising those of women. To celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage in Britain, photographer Anita Corbin has unveiled a long-standing project to showcase one hundred of the first women to do something extraordinary in their field.
The exhibition floor at the Dyson Gallery sees the photographs hung side by side, sometimes clustered, creating a space where the portraits ring with strength and inspiration. Corbin has had the honour of spending time with some extraordinary women in this process, but the atmosphere is one of more than a sum of individuals. Walking through the gallery, it is not unusual to hear a mother and daughter standing beside a portrait and cheering, unaware, perhaps, that its subject is stood behind them.
The portraits and their compositions are finely crafted, in a clearly successful cooperative process between Corbin and the first women. Dame Stella Rimington, first woman director general of MI5, sits incognito, a radio beside her, keeping her cards close to her chest. Libby Lane, on the other hand, stands tall with her mitre in an almost medieval image, except that she is the first woman bishop in the history of the Church of England. These smart juxtapositions root for women in every environment and occupation. However uncharacteristic of stereotypical femininity their achievements are, the subjects never appear incongruous; they stand tall and proud. Rev Rose Hudson Wilkin, first black woman to serve as the Queen’s chaplain, radiates an other-worldly happiness in her robes.
These are not figments of the distant past either, they are fresh, and vibrant, far from sallow portraits of pale regency damsels. These are vital, unstoppable women, and yet the years beside the subjects’ respective achievements remind visitors just how hard fought feminist battles for recognition and equality are. It is a shame that the women’s full stories don’t appear in the exhibition materials themselves (you’ll have to buy the book), but suffice to say that, in the past hundred years, women have earned beatboxing acclaim, skied to the North Pole, kayaked the Amazon and read the news to millions. It’s time to repopulate some of those dusty hallways.
Featured images: Rev Rose Hudson Wilkin /
Dame Stella Rimington
Anita Corbin – First Women is at Dyson Gallery at the Royal College of Art from 20th July until 22nd August 2018. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.