Artemisia Gentileschi's Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria is on display at Glasgow Women's Library (c) National Gallery (cropped)

Museums celebrate International Women’s Day 2019

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 08.03.2019
Events tackle contemporary issues as well as honouring female pioneers
From craftivism to flashmobs, cultural institutions across the UK are running a range of events today and over the weekend to mark International Women’s Day 2019, challenge gender inequality and celebrate women's achievements. 

For the next few weeks, Glasgow Women’s Library will be displaying a rare self portrait of Artemisia Gentileschi, the most prominent female painter of the Italian Baroque era. The painting was acquired by the National Gallery last year and is now on tour around the UK. 

Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) in London has launched Visible/Invisible, a trail to uncover women’s history at the National Maritime Museum. Throughout the day, RMG will also be taking to Twitter to share details of pioneering spacewomen, including Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first women to travel to space.  

Equal representation matters not just in human subjects – to mark International Women's Day, Leeds Museum curator Rebecca Machin has written a blog to celebrate some of the amazing female specimens that can be found in the museum’s natural science collections, from badgers and beavers to a female octopus’s argonaut, a hard case she creates to protect herself and her eggs. 

Machin also highlights the problematic representation of the sexes in natural science collections, pointing out how museum text tends to focus solely on females as producers of babies, to the exclusion of their other capabilities and features. 

This week also marks the launch of the Tyneside Festival of Women, which is being coordinated by Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. The festival will run until June and has a lively programme of exhibitions and workshops, as well as campaigning events, including a flashmob choir taking place today at Grey’s Monument in protest of period poverty. The festival comes on the back of a two-year Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund (EFCF) project, Women in Tyneside, which is working with local women to explore contemporary social issues relating to women and gender in museum collections. 

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is running a community showcase event to build connections with grassroots women’s organisations and charities in the city. The showcase runs until 4pm, and includes engagement with visual artists, “women in protest” banner displays and performances by female artists.  

Motivated by the finding that most people are unable to name five female artists, Cornwall Museum has created a #5WomenInArt trail, which explores the artworks by women on display at the museum, accompanied by a series of blog posts about the artists.

Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies is hosting a talk on Dolly Shepherd, the daredevil Edwardian parachutist, trapeze artist and hot air balloonist, while the History of Science Museum in Oxford  held a Women and Science family day last weekend in honour of the astronomers Caroline Herschel, Mariam Al-asturlabi and Sophia Brahe. 

Maidstone Museum is running a talk tonight entitled Creators, Collectors, Curators, which celebrates the women, often working within male preserves, who contributed to the museum’s collections.

Snapping the Stiletto: Essex Women’s History Festival takes place on 9 March at the University of Essex Business School, featuring presentations from Essex historians on suffragette campaigners and workplace pioneers, as well as craftivism activities on period poverty, body positivity and women’s rights. Organised in partnership with the University of Essex, the free festival is part of Snapping the Stiletto, an EFCF-funded project taking place among 11 museums in Essex exploring how women's lives have changed since the Representation of the People Act. 

Real Mary King’s Close, a heritage site in Edinburgh, has unveiled new research this week on the convention-defying women who lived there 400 years ago. The close was home to the social pioneer Mary King and the new research has shown that it became a haven for independent women; three quarters of the properties there were owned by two women – a rarity in the 17th century – while 45% of those properties had a female head of household, more than double the norm elsewhere in Scotland at the time. 

The People’s History Museum in Manchester is hosting a guided tour today on radical and revolutionary women, and will also be highlighting the role of women during the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 in an upcoming exhibition. Opening 23 March, the show explores the presence of women at Peterloo, where they made up a disproportionately high number of the 700 injured on the day, suggesting that female political activists were explicitly targeted by government forces. 

Meanwhile, the National Emergency Services Museum in Sheffield has made a video looking at the trailblazing role that women have played in the ambulance service, as part of its new Blood, Bandages and Blue Lights exhibition.

Museums and galleries are also being called out on their own representation of women. In the run-up to International Women's Day, the recently launched @ArtActivistBarbie account has been tweeting pictures of placard-holding Barbies to reveal shocking stats about gender balance in the art world – including the fact that 2,300 paintings in the National Gallery are by men compared to 21 by women. It's part of a wider #refusetobethemuse social media campaign to promote women artists. 

Is your institution doing anything to mark International Women's Day 2019? Tell us in the comments below.

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