Happy International Women’s Day! To celebrate, here is a review of “A Fit Place for Women” currently on show at New South Wales Parliament House on Macquarie Street. I visited this exhibition quite some time ago. My memory of what was on display is a little hazy so thankfully I have pictures to help me remember!
The aim of the exhibition is to trace the role, history, and achievements of women in state politics. I have close to zero knowledge about New South Wales politics having been born and raised in Queensland. I am glad that my formal introduction to this topic was through this exhibition. On display is a collection of artefacts, artworks, photographs, rare documents, and newsreels each providing some insight into women in politics. The overall vibe I had of the exhibition was that it was trying to cover as much as possible without being overwhelming. At times, however, it did feel as though a history textbook had been printed on a panel.
When you walk inside the front doors of Parliament House, it is literally the first thing you see. Exhibition panels, display cases, and textiles are located around the perimeter of the reception room. It’s great that the exhibition is so exposed. It would be difficult to visit Parliament House and not see at least some of its contents. One ‘object’ that stands out in particular is a mannequin dressed in suffragette garments and sash. As I walked around with my friend, Imogen, I frequently saw people coming in and out of Parliament stopping to see the mannequin and read the label.
I’m going to divide the rest of the blog post into what worked well and what didn’t work well. These points will include exhibition design, content, and presentation.
~ What Worked Well ~
The interior of the Parliament House reception room is essentially a giant circle. The exhibition ran around the circumference of the room allowing visitors the opportunity to follow a prescribed path or jump between different sections. It was displayed chronologically, however, I felt as though you didn’t have to start reading at one end and finish at the other. I skipped particular sections in order to spend more time reading others.
- Suffragette Content
My favourite part of the exhibition was seeing the objects relating to the Australian and British Suffrage Movement. Apart from the beautiful sash and garments, there was a medium-sized display case at the beginning of the exhibition containing assorted objects. There was a pair of embroidered tights and a board game that was so fascinating. I had seen a similar cup and saucer in “Disobedient Objects” at the Powerhouse Museum last year. Although the accompanying thematic label was long, it was very interesting. It covered how merchandise was utilized by the movement in the United Kingdom to raise funds for the protests etc. These objects were positioned next to a thematic panel and documents from the movement in Australia. Seeing an original petition from 1900 was incredible. Displaying the movement in both England and Australia was, to me, powerful as it highlighted the wider historical and political context.
This one is both a positive and a negative so brace yourself for the alternative perspective. What I did like about the biographies was that they were accompanied by photographs and had just the right amount of text on each individual. You could easily skim all of them picking up some interesting information as well as inspiring messages. In saying that, and as mentioned before, it did feel a bit textbook put together. It would have been nice to have some objects related to specific individuals on display.
~ What Did Not Work Well ~
- Thematic Panels Printed on Cloth
All of the thematic panels and biographies were printed directly onto cloth that was then hung around the exhibition space. This looked fine, for the most part. When it came to reading the labels, however, for some reason it was very hard on my eyes. Not to mention it was difficult to see all of the words where the fabric had creased. I understand this is perhaps a good idea for a temporary exhibition as the cloth won’t have a long time to crinkle and look tatty. This is not the worst thing I’ve seen a thematic label printed on. Please can we stop printing onto mirrors? It is almost impossible to read! Anyway, this is just a nit-picky thing I picked up on concerning the aesthetics of the exhibition.
- End Message
I like leaving exhibitions with a little bit of closure. If that cannot be provided by the exhibition itself, it’s nice to know I can continue my experience online or through other means. The exhibition finishes by stating there has been limited space so not all stories have been shared. Also, if you have been inspired you can now go on to research more. Whilst this is all lovely, nowhere does it say where you could begin your research. Not to mention raising questions of – whose story was left out and why? How were these particular stories selected? It was a bit of an airy way to leave such an important exhibition raising more questions than answers, and not in a good way.
Thank you as always for reading my ramblings!
If you would like to see the exhibition for yourself it is open until 28 April 2017. Entry is free, and doors are open from 9:00am – 5:00pm Monday to Friday, and from 9:00am-6:00pm on Wednesdays when Parliament is sitting.