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A history of women in graphics in Britain

As a feminist curator, how would you respond to claims that women-only exhibitions are a step backwards in terms of equality?

Women-only graphic design exhibitions (I don't know about art!) are a step forward to reaching gender equality in graphic design. Because:

• they raise the visibility of female graphic designers' careers. If you can see it, it is easier to be it.

• they raise awareness of gender disparities in graphic design – without awareness of the problem, it is harder to do anything about it.

• most graphic design exhibitions are male only, because they are often retrospectives of individual designers, nearly always male. So it provides a counterbalance to that.

For example, here is a list of the graphic design exhibitions held at the Design Museum: Wim Crouwel, Robert Brownjohn, Alan Aldridge, Jonathan Barnbrook, Alan Fletcher, Saul Bass, Peter Saville, Abram Games, Malcolm Garrett, FHK Henrion. There have been group shows on graphics at the Design Museum which I would guess only had a few women in them.

Do you think there is still a need for all-female exhibitions?
Yes, for the reasons above. In the future when there are no gender disparities and equal pay in graphic design there will be less need. 

What made you want to curate the A+ exhibition?

I am researching the history of women in graphic design in Britain, and the exhibition shows some of what I have found so far, in terms of the women with a CSM connection. I am not just interested in women connected to CSM, however to give the show a focus relevant to its location, in this case I used that criteria. It would be fantastic to do a similar show for LCC where I also work, in fact it would be a good show for all the places where graphics is taught!

What do you think is the strongest piece in the A+ show? 

The show is a collective history so singling out one as the strongest is not possible. Some pieces of work are more famous than others, some deal with larger social issues than others, some would have been more difficult to produce than others, and some have had a more longevity than others….. there are around 100 pieces of work in the show and they are all wonderful.

Why is it so important to be gender specific?

There is a growing movement to redress the gender imbalance in the representation of women in our industry, in design history and educational curricula, which does not reflect the number of women studying the subject or working within it, or the historical contribution women have made to graphic design. Being women-specific supports this movement and hopefully contributes to it.

Design tends to be a male-dominated industry, what advice do you have for females trying to break through? 

For breaking through, my advice is the same for women and men: network. It’s not just what you know, but who you know. Where it gets more gender specific is around achieving and retaining senior creative positions within organisations, but as I set up my own design consultancy and went into teaching, I am not the best person to give advice about that! There are professional organisations that aim to widen diversity in the creative industries for example: The 3% Conference and Kerning The Gap who are much better placed to advise.