Inside the marginalised world of women and Pop Art: we speak to the curators behind the Tate Modern's new show

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Harriet Hall
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When we think about Pop Art, our minds conjure-up images of identikit technicolour Marilyn Monroes, Campbell’s soup tins and discarded Brillo pad boxes. Or, perhaps we think of blown-up cartoon romances, women bent into furniture and the Sgt. Pepper album sleeve.

These images, as powerful as they might be, are the creations of Western, male artists, and they only tell a fragment of the whole Pop Art story.

The Tate Modern is addressing this disparity in its latest blockbuster show, which aims to “reveal the alternative stories of Pop, highlighting key figures of the era who have often been left out of mainstream art history.”

The World Goes Pop, which runs from 17 September to the 24 January 2016, “reveals how artists around the world engaged with the spirit of Pop, from Latin America to Asia, and from Europe to the Middle East.”

The exhibition, which displays around 160 works from the 1960s and 1970s – the height of the Pop Art movement – also seeks to bring to light the many women artists who were working within the genre.

Speaking to, the exhibition’s curator, Flavia Frigeri, says:

“It’s not something we set out to do at the beginning – push female artists- but we gradually started to discover all these women who were left out of history.”

There were two reasons for this omission, Frigeri told us. The first, is that their male peers didn’t regard them as talented and the second, that their work didn’t necessarily fall into the bracket of ‘feminist art’ at the time.

“They were in a difficult position – rejected by their peers and not embraced by the feminist community – completely marginalised and rarely exhibiting.”

“So it came to us to start looking out for women and shed new light on what it meant for women and how women interacted with Pop.”

Much of Pop Art addresses the role of consumerism within society, but the artists in The World Goes Pop are also presenting political protest by subverting propaganda. Women certainly haven’t been left out of the medium itself, Frigari notes, but:

“A lot of the pop we are familiar with places emphasis on the woman seen through male eyes- beautiful Marilyn seen through the male gaze.”

Set against red walls that evoke the perceived threat of communism and the blood shed during the Vietnam war, the exhibition is organised thematically, including rooms such as ‘Pop at Home’ and ‘Pop Bodies’ that address women’s roles within the genre.

The women artists presented in the exhibition are seen to explore the objectification of women’s bodies for male gratification, female economic inequality and traditional ‘feminine’ roles.  

“The female artists were looking at themselves through pop – the response to the male gaze. It shows you the other side of the coin.”

The exhibition exposes the female artistic position during the 1960s and 1970s and, strikingly, issues that women all over the world continue to face today.

Pointedly, the curators are most keen not to single these women out. Frigeri is keen to press that:

"We are not singling these women out as ‘female Pop artists’. We do not want to put them in that box, they are Pop artists and we want them in dialogue with the men, on the same walls as them.”

And that's exactly what the show does.

Get your tickets here.

Take a look at some of our favourite pieces by female artists from the show:

Judy Chicago, born 1939

The exhibition displays the work of renowned feminist artists such as the American, Judy Chicago, whose installations examine women’s role within art history. Chicago’s painted car hoods, Flight Hood, Bigamy Hood and Birth Hood (1965) hang, like an iconographic religious triptych from a tangerine wall, commanding the space. The hoods are painted with poppy imagery of male and female reproductive organs. The juxtaposition of a feminist topic on a traditionally macho item – a car bonnet- represents the challenges that Chicago encountered as a woman in a male dominated industry.

Kiki Kogelnik, 1935-1997

Kiki Kogelnik is featured prominently in the exhibition. The Austrian artist lived in New York, mixing painting and performance in her work. Often focusing on the female figure, the artist presents dehumanised silhouettes made from latex and other unusual materials. This piece, Bombs in Love (1962) contrasts the hippy generation with its backdrop of international conflict. 

Martha Rosler, born 1943

The American, Martha Rosler created photomontages that, Figari says: “criticise how the female flesh was being commodified – from Playboy to fashion magazines. She juxtaposes the female body with the household objects that traditionally hinge women to the home

Evelyn Axell, 1935 - 1972

Lesser-known female artists are given equal weighting in the exhibition, including the Belgian artist Evelyn Axell, whose work reflects strongly upon female liberation. Figari tells us that her work makes “bold erotic sexualised images, in order to bring across the need and desire of women to be free.” This piece, Valentine (1966) exposes the contrast betwen the liberating possibilities of space travel for women and the objectification of the female form.

Anna Maria Maiolino, born 1942

Glu Glu Glu (1966) by Italian-Brazilian Pop artist, Anna Maria Maiolino, deconstructs the female body to represent the role of ‘mass consumer culture on women’s subjectivity.'

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Harriet Hall

Harriet Hall is a former Stylist contributor.