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Artist Ingrid Pollard and MK Gallery win £100k Freelands Award 2020 as new report examines representation of female artists in Britain

MK Gallery. Photo: 6a Architects. Courtesy MK Gallery

Freelands Foundation has announced that MK Gallery, Milton Keynes has won £100k to host a solo exhibition by artist Ingrid Pollard (b.1953, Guyana) across its 500-square-metre galleries in 2022.

The fifth annual Freelands Award will enable MK Gallery to stage the first exhibition to span Pollard’s practice, which explores different perspectives on the human figure, as it passes through landscape, history and printed material, using photography, film, collage, sculpture and installation.

For four decades, Pollard’s important photographic collages have offset traditionally idyllic representations of Britain with unseen legacies of xenophobia and exclusion. Pastoral Interlude (1988) places the Black figure within an imagined picturesque setting, undermining perceptions of ‘urban’ and ‘authentic rural’. Seaside Series (1989) combines cyphers of coastal tourism with stories of historic and contemporary immigration to the UK. More recently, Seventeen of Sixty-Eight (2019) documents how the African body is represented in popular signwriting. Pollard is currently developing new work for the exhibition that looks at different choreographies of the body, including rowing, bowing, dancing, boxing and rambling.

The annual Freelands Award was established in 2016 to enable arts organisations outside London to present an exhibition, including significant new work, by a mid-career female artist who may not yet have received the acclaim or public recognition that her work deserves. It has previously been won by the Hepworth Wakefield and Hannah Starkey (2019), Spike Island and Veronica Ryan (2018), Nottingham Contemporary and Lis Rhodes (2017) and the Fruitmarket Gallery and Jacqueline Donachie (2016).

This announcement comes alongside the Foundation’s fifth report into the ‘Representation of Female Artists in Britain’, which shows a steady decline in the number of solo exhibitions by female artists in public galleries outside London over the last three years. Written by Dr Kate McMillan, the report includes essays by art historian and writer Jennifer Higgie on women in art history and art critic and writer Hettie Judah on art and motherhood.

The report traces the reversal of fortunes for women who, despite making up 74% of Art A-Level students, represent only 3% of the highest grossing auction sales at the other end of their careers. It also looks at the scant representation of works by women artists in Britain’s national collections, which represent only 1% of the National Gallery Collection.
Higgie’s essay concludes,

Gender exclusion isn’t a theory: it’s a fact… It’s essential that a very bright light continues to be cast on the dark spaces of discrimination that continue to flourish in the arts.

In addition, the report investigates the challenges facing women artists in 2020. Writer Hettie Judah interviewed over 50 artists to explore the impact of motherhood on their careers. Data from art schools and universities highlights the disparity in gender balance between permanent professorial positions and precarious zero-hours teaching contracts. Author Dr Kate McMillan goes on to ask:

What might the impacts of COVID-19 mean for female artists? It is clear that existing inequalities will be further exacerbated during, and in the aftermath of the pandemic, possibly for years to come… despite changes in the workplace and public policy, the personal is still political for most women.

About

The annual Freelands Award was established in 2016 to enable an arts organisation outside London to present an exhibition, including significant new work, by a mid-career female artist who may not yet have received the acclaim or public recognition that her work deserves. The total value of the award is £100,000, £25,000 of which will be paid directly to the artist.

Six visual arts organisations were shortlisted for the 2020 award: Firstsite, Colchester, MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, Modern Art Oxford, Towner Eastbourne, Turner Contemporary, Margate and the Whitworth, Manchester.

The Freelands Award 2020 jury was comprised of Elisabeth Murdoch (Founder and Chair, Freelands Foundation), artist Monster Chetwynd, curator and writer Juliana Engberg, Jenni Lomax (independent curator and former Director, Camden Art Centre) and Zoe Whitley (Director, Chisenhale Gallery).

It has previously been won by the Hepworth Wakefield and Hannah Starkey (2019), Spike Island and Veronica Ryan (2018), Nottingham Contemporary and Lis Rhodes (2017) and the Fruitmarket Gallery and Jacqueline Donachie (2016).

Freelands Foundation was set up in 2015 to give an increased number of people the chance to engage with and enjoy the arts in the UK, with a particular focus on education.

Our ambition is to give everyone access to a creative and cultural education in the belief that it raises their aspirations and transforms their opportunities in life.

We aim to do this in three ways: by advancing education to enable everyone, regardless of background or location, to take part in the creation and enjoyment of art; by empowering artists and arts organisations across the breadth of the UK to expand their reach in their communities; and by commissioning research that explores the value that art and culture bring to society. www.freelandsfoundation.co.uk

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