Older women as works of art: Artists celebrate older bodies and ageing femininity

Suzanne lacy is currently looking for women aged around 60 and older, from all communities but who live in the UK, to take part in her ‘temporary participatory action’ project which is called ‘Silver Action’.
This work will explore British history by looking at the political activism of women. So she is interested in connecting with women who have been involved in social and political movements such as the Miner’s Strike (1984), the Housewives Register (1960), the demonstration at the Miss World Competition (1970), the formation of the Southall Black Sisters (1979) and so on.
Here’s a description from the website:

“In this new work, UK women are positioned within the context of local and national histories of key social and political movements of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s… [all of which] demonstrate women’s importance in transforming the contemporary social and political landscape in the last half of the 20th century.  The commonalities in these histories and their agendas are not represented in the public imaginary, yet they do exist; embodied in the relationships, memories, archives and current activisms of older women.”

The project will include personal stories, personal experiences and an action in the Tanks at Tate Modern. It looks set to be a very exciting piece.
Suzanne’s work reminded me of a series of work by Melanie Manchot back in 1998. Her ‘Look at You Loving Me’ project involved the artist capturing images of her mother to produce a number of portraits which charted both the ageing female body as well as the relationship between mother and daughter. Melanie has been quoted as saying:

“There have been hundreds of years of paintings that have defined female beauty, but the modern media have taken a certain, overblown and static way of defining it, which is very restrictive – women who are very tall, very young, very thin. It’s an impossible image, and quite dangerous. It puts pressure on women of all ages, and men, too, to follow that particular image. I wanted to find another way of looking at beauty.”

She went on describe her mother’s beauty as “an expression of her strength, life and experience.” Clearly her work confronts ageism and the disdain of older female bodies that we often find in contemporary western society.
It’s wonderful to see artists celebrate ageing bodies and ageing femininity in this way. They make visible the invisible. They challenge negative representations of older women. They acknowledge the diversity of ageing. And they respect the histories (life stories) that make older women who they are.
I’m keen to update this post so if anyone knows of any other artists working in this area, or is an artist themselves, do get in touch.

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