Alexandra Lethbridge’s latest exhibition seeks to open up the conversation about female representation in the art world and beyond
An Object of Vision is Alexandra’s response to the exclusion of women from “so many different narratives.”
The visual artist, who was born and spent her childhood in Hong Kong and now lives in Hampshire, developed An Object of Vision as part of a commission for Belfast Photo Festival. It’s currently on display at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast.
Alexandra (34) says she was inspired to create the series after noticing an imbalance in how men and women are represented in the art world and beyond.
“I’d been wanting to make a body of work around the representation of women for a while and I’d been reading up on the subject alongside working on previous bodies of work,” the creative explains.
“I completed my last series, An Archive of Gesture, where I had been using Greek statues to consider the role of gesture and communication in creating meaning, and in making that work, I noticed the imbalance of male to female statues. The more I looked, the more imbalance I saw.
“The statues became the metaphorical messenger to talk about the wider issues around how women have been represented in history and within the art world.
“At the same time, I had my daughter, which changed the urgency of the work.
“There are plenty of ways to understand the injustices women still face today, but when thinking about how these would affect my daughter, it felt unacceptable and now felt like the right time to make this work.
Alexandra references the collection of 2,300 paintings spanning the 13th to early 20th century that are currently held by the National Gallery, London — only 21 are by women.
“This figure is just one of many staggering pieces of data that show how one-sided art world representations are,” she says.
“We still have so far to go in readdressing the balance and the use of these statistics is aimed at raising awareness about this. Data like this helps us to track change and formed a large part of my research.”
Through An Object of Vision Alexandra sought to chart the exclusion of women from historical narratives through a series of still lifes and collages constructed to position women back in the picture.
“In the work I focus on the exclusion of women in history through the use of sculptures and statues,” Alexandra explains.
“I use image making to reimagine these narratives and to insert women back into the picture. Sometimes this happens literally with collage and interruptions, but other times the images represent the exclusion and lack of voice women have suffered, such as the images which depict headless statues.
“Some of the work demonstrates the removal of women by obscuring the female figures from view but hinting at the presence of the figure, such as the image of Venus de Milo sandwiched in stone. The idea being that even when women are removed and concealed, they still exist, they still hold a presence even if it’s not celebrated.
“The work is made from a variety of materials both within the images themselves as well as the way it’s installed.
“I work with a combination of my own imagery alongside appropriated imagery. In this instance I also used text within the show.
“For the installation, I use a combination of prints on the wall, alongside fabrics. The fabrics in the show are an ode to the drapes found on female statues to cover their genitals.
“As you move around the space, you can move between these long hanging fabrics and the walls to see the work.”
The artist hopes An Object of Vision will generate conversation about representation and she encourages people to visit the exhibition.
“I hope that the series will help to shine light on the imbalance that still exists for women,” Alexandra says.
“The more conversations had around this, the better.
“By no means is this work offering a solution, it’s my own interpretation of an issue I feel passionately about. It felt important to me to respond to it, and I hope that when people interact with the work, they’ll enjoy the works and consider the themes from a new perspective.
“The installation of the show really brings the themes to life. I work on site specific installations for all my works, so seeing them in person adds to the understanding of the work much more than seeing the images online.”
Commenting on the thematic concerns of An Object of Vision, Sarah McAvera, Deputy Director of Golden Thread Gallery, says: “On average women in Northern Ireland earn 5.7% less than men, yet female artists in Northern Ireland typically earn 30% less income from their practice than their male counterparts,” (ACNI Evidencing Need report, July 2021).
Sarah says the statistic may be shocking for some, but it didn’t come as a surprise to those who are working in the sector, who see the disparity between male and female artists and arts professionals on a daily basis.
“Alexandra Lethbridge confronts the disparity head on and asks us to sit with the uncomfortable facts of exclusion while envisioning a future that embraces the whole picture,” Sarah says.
“The exhibition continues the Golden Thread Gallery’s work to combat exclusion by showcasing women artists in our exhibition programme.”
Clare Gormley, Curator and Head of Programmes at Belfast Photo Festival, adds:
“Alexandra Lethbridges’s work tackles head on the lack of representation of women, not only in the arts, but within all spheres of our social, cultural and political lives.
“Drawing inspiration from a range of sources — from the statues of classical antiquity to present day women’s magazines — her work shines a light on the long history of women being relegated to the side lines.
“In an era where women’s bodies are more highly visible than ever, thanks primarily to social media, there are still far too many facets of modern life where women’s voices and perspectives remain invisible or highly under-represented.
“At Belfast Photo Festival, we’re committed to showcasing the work of women artists and photographers which convey the complexities, nuance and depth of women’s experience in this world.
“Exhibitions like these go some way to shifting the balance of representation within the art world, which for far too long has neglected women artists.”
An Object of Vision by Alexandra Lethbridge at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, runs until July 30. Admission is free