June 20, 2021

Gallery Visits – Eileen Agar, Surrealism & Women’s Rights

On 17 June, I visited the Whitechapel Gallery too see Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy and Phantoms of Surrealism. Then I popped over to The British Library to see their exhibition Unfinished Business. The Fight for Women’s Rights

I’d been looking forward to visiting these exhibitions ever since I took part in the Citylit courses, Feminism in Contemporary Art and Female Surrealists in London

Phantoms of Surrealism

The Phantoms of Surrealism exhibition was a little disappointing. I think because my expectations were based on the amount of artworks covered in the Female Surrealists in London course that I did. The exhibition’s main exhibit was a model of the original London Surrealist Exhibition in 1936 with tiny miniatures of the artworks on display. Around the rest of the room were some original letters and leaflets from the exhibition (which were interesting to see) and then perhaps around 15 artworks, a few of which I was really excited to see. I particularly enjoyed Grace Pailthorpe’s work, Sea Urchin the Escaped Prisoner, 1983, from her birth trauma series depicting latent trauma from birth in the womb. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/pailthorpe-december-4th-1938-t15033

Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy

In the Eileen Agar exhibition I found quite a few pieces of her work that felt as though they sparked ideas and inspiration in my own work, and other pieces that were fascinating in their own right.

An unnatural Child 1934 by Agar was stunning and it would seem unavailable on the internet so I am unable to share the work. The colours were extraordinary and I could have looked at the piece for hours, it was truly beautiful.

The modern muse 1934

Agar subverted the concept of the traditional female muse.

Muse of Construction 1939

Picasso as her Muse. Again subverting the idea of the female muse.

Angel of Anarchy 1936-40.

This piece drew my attention as it originally looked like a mask, before I realised it was a sculpture. The use of found objects which included textiles and stitching were also of interest to me as threads and textiles are an area I wish to explore as part of my future work. The fabric could either be in place of the skin or as a sort of blindfold.

Ladybird 1936

This piece was very intriguing to me. In this photograph taken by Bard, Agar posed holding a sheet of transparent film over her body, I’m intrigued by the use of layering in camera and also by the gouache and ink that was applied to the print in the post production process. This work is seen as an act of defining her own image as a woman and an artist.

The Guardians of the Shrine 1987

What I found most interesting about this piece is the way in which the figures have been cut out and collaged onto the piece but also the absence of their figures reveals the artwork beneath.

Infinite loop 1941

Here Agar’s body melds with a Greek vase and is sprinkled with little propellers and red hearts. I like the use of overlaid elements in this image, I’m left intrigued by her thought process as it was constructed.

Dementor 1949

Dance of Peace 1945

I adore this image, the shapes/movement and the colours it’s simply beautiful. There was nothing particularly that I wanted to take from this image to relate back to my own work, I just enjoyed the piece in it’s own right.

What I found most interesting is that of the entire collection (around 150 works) I found Agar’s photographic work of the lest interest in terms of the inspiration it sparked in respect of my own work. Agar’s mixed media work definitely felt like it carried greater interest and had much more to say than her photographic works (which were mainly of rock formations).

Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights

This exhibition was fascinating to walk around.

Jo Spence Remodelling History Series

I was drawn to the work of Jo Spence that was part of her Remodelling Photo History Series. Spence depicted her own history as a domestic worker, using semi-nudity to reflect the objectification of women. Thought the series Spence uses role-play and subversion to challenge notions of sexuality, body politics and gender to free women from outdated stereotypes.

Joy Gregory’s work Autoportrait,

are self portraits questioning the ideals of feminine beauty. The series mimics the commercial shots of women in magazines. They highlight the absence of Black women in European narratives about female beauty. The images are not straightforward portraits, instead, depicting the head from various angles as if she is refusing to be identified, scrutinised and evaluated.

I found this work particularly interesting as I have been interrogating the beauty industry standards and ideals through my work with cosmetic face masks. I have been trying to consider how I can be representative of all intersections of women and feminism within my work without objectifying my subjects. I’m very aware that I personally represent a lot of the beauty standards created by society and the beauty industry (fair hair, white skin, able bodied) and so to continue to only use myself as a model in my work is only interrogating a small part of the ideals of beauty standards in western society.

Gregory’s work is powerful and thought provoking and I really enjoyed how she has used posing and cropping to present her message.


This is not a Humanising Poem by Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan.

This is not a Humanising Poem. Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan 2017

Other parts of the exhibition which I found interesting.