Our exhibition Women & Water explores the relationship between women and water in the works of 17 women artists, spanning from the early twentieth century to the present day. The exhibition examines how water has been used by artists both as subject matter and artistic medium to reflect the multiplicity of women’s experiences.

Artists: Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Phoebe Boswell, Joyce W. Cairns, Eileen Cooper, Betsy Damon, Tracey Emin, Mary Fedden, Elisabeth Frink, Marcelle Hanselaar, Chloe Ho, Laura Knight, Sarah Lederman, Joanna Moss, Rachel Nicholson, May Stevens, Madinah Thompson, Janet White

For these artists, water represents both a source of pleasure and refuge and a threatening, foreboding presence. In their depictions of water, the artists reflect on family relationships, personal griefs and generational traumas. Water also becomes a symbol of new life, the passage of time and the possibility of renewal.

Women and water have a long association in the history of European art from the girlish Nymphs and dangerous Sirens of Greek mythology to the drowned women of Victorian art. Several artists in the exhibition reference these gendered myths and tropes, instead turning water into a metaphor for freedom and resistance. The artists experiment with water-based materials, from watercolour to coffee stains, capturing the visual effect of fluidity. Some works are informed by ‘hydrofeminism’, a concept pioneered by theorist Astrida Neimanis, which speaks to contemporary ecological concerns through the connections between human and non-human ‘bodies of water’.

Women & Water takes inspiration from the iconic architectural feature of the sunken Fountain Court which lies at the heart of Murray Edwards College. The works in the exhibition are drawn predominantly from The Women’s Art Collection and the Ingram Collection of Modern British Art.

Curated by Naomi Polonsky, Associate Curator, The Women’s Art Collection