A new exhibition opening at the British Library examines the past, present and future of the fight for women's rights through a comprehensive display of photography, books, paintings, film and immersive audiovisual pieces.
Titled Unfinished Business, The Fight for Women's Rights, the exhibition was designed by London-based design agencies Plaid and Lombaert Studio. A key aspect of the show is highlighting contemporary activist groups to encourage visitors to get involved in the ongoing fight for equality themselves.
According to Margot Lombaert, creative director of lombaert studio, the exhibition design focuses on creating a "welcoming and inclusive environment, attempting to embody the feeling of movement and activity." Acknowledging the sensitive nature of some of the pieces on display, the site was deliberately designed to include areas for "respite" and "reflection and contemplation," as well as highlighting the sense of collective triumphs and celebrations.
Lombaert adds that the "line between architecture and graphics is blurred" in the design of the walls of the media space at the heart of the exhibition. These use printed panels that document key marches and display infographics; while the media space's interiors use organically shaped tiered seating facing a projection screen composed of a wall of placards.
"After reviewing the content with the curators we started to imagine a space that spoke of the urgency of the protest march and the ingenuity used to communicate messages through economic means," says Plaid director Lauren Scully. "We wanted the environment to convey the spirit of collaboration and spontaneity – to indicate that this movement is fluid and dynamic, and much larger than can be contained within the gallery walls."
Lombaert Studio chose three bold principle colours that overlap to create secondary colours for the exhibition colours that look to reflect "the dynamic way that feminist movements connect and inspire one another". The typefaces selected were all designed by women typographers.
Fellow London studio Here Design is behind 45 pieces of merchandise for the show, including an exhibition book, tote bags, caps and pins.
The agency looked to reflect the show's aims to connect with a younger audience by reframing today's feminist language. "We see an attitude of pride rather than protest," says Here. Like the exhibition graphics, the colours use vivid colours and bold typography. "These products were designed to be worn, and worn with pride," says Nikki Stuart, production manager at Here Design. "This is not disposable merchandise; these are the artefacts of a movement."
Here Design's work draws directly on the exhibition's title, 'Unfinished Business', which implies that rather than being a "comfortable retrospective" the show is "a vigorous, fresh take on a contemporary issue." As such, the book and merch look to showcase an attitude of pride and a call-to-arms for visitors.
The exhibition book boasts a striking cover, bright colour palette and a no-nonsense typographic approach that aims to deliver a message of rousing rather than reassuring, to paraphrase Here Design. Alongside imagery selected by Here which mixes historical and contemporary references, the book showcases 16 essays from prominent figures, whose work is split into three sections—body, mind and voice—reflecting the exhibition layout itself. The publication's overall aim, according to Here, is to highlight "how we can progress but also regress."
British Library says: “Recognising that inequality is experienced differently depending on race, gender identity, class and sexuality, this exhibition celebrates those who have struggled to overcome the barriers to living a fully-realised life.”
"For centuries, women and their allies have fought for women’s rights in all areas of life," adds Polly Russell, Lead Curator for Contemporary Politics and Public Life at The British Library. “Their efforts have fundamentally changed the world we live in. And yet in 2020 so much change is still needed.
"With this exhibition we aim to show how generations of women have tackled these issues with passion, determination, imagination, humour and wit."
The exhibition runs at the British Library until 24 February 2021.