Review: Festival of the Body at Leeds Central Library

By March 23, 2016



Stepping into Room 700 of Leeds Library feels like entering the aftermath of a celebration; balloons, graphic handwriting, bright colours and faces adorn the walls from floor to ceiling. Festival of the Body is an exhibition created to do just that- celebrate the body as a tool and explore its potential, working through the lens of feminism and equality.

Exploring and asserting how contemporary feminism is influencing creative practice, the Festival of the Body showcases artists, writers, poets and performers investigating the issues affecting young women across the globe right now. The first room of the exhibition focuses on photography exploring how the body can be represented and manipulated, alongside bold, graphic statements emblazoned across the walls. “EMPOWERED?” screams one of the initial text based pieces, and “NO MEANS NO”. Dealing with issues such as the representation of women in the media and darker, more problematic issues such as sexual consent, the initial experience of the exhibition sets the tone for the discourse between feminism, politics and contemporary art practice seen throughout the remainder of the pieces.


The main room of the exhibition is centred around a sculptural piece – ‘HMS equality’ – a satirical piece suggesting the ease at which equality could be achieved it if we all simply ‘got on board’. Surrounding this focal point is a multi- disciplinary and extremely informative body of work. A stand out piece includes a quilt highlighting both the facts and the problems with the tax applied to sanitary products, referred to colloquially as ‘Tampon Tax’- an extremely problematic and infuriating issue for women in society right now. Beautifully hand painted signs lie dotted around the exhibition, proudly displaying slogans that sit ready for a protest and highlight the issues around the treatment of women in contemporary culture.


There is a strong focus on the reclamation of how the female body can be both perceived and used as a tool throughout the exhibition. Photographic work documents the female body captured in its most natural state, without Photoshop, a statement of body confidence and beauty, refreshing in an age where women are under the most intense scrutiny and almost made to feel as if confidence is a sign of arrogance. Casts of the female body stand as stunning sculpture around the room, alongside expressionistic life drawing as a celebration of how the female body can not only inspire art but be used as the tool to create it.


Paying homage to a series of feminist icons- the final piece of the exhibition is a bold statement of how contemporary feminism continues to influence creative practise and the young women in our society. As the artist poses as Frida and Malala, a moment in the history of feminism is captured and re invented- these ladies inspired and continue to inspire as time progresses and new issues arise for the women of today to overcome.

Combining traditional textile crafts such as embroidery and patchwork with contemporary practices such as photography and sculpture, the exhibition is vibrant and enriching. The work throughout is educational and inspirational, discussing the issues young women are facing right now, both across the globe and in the society we live in.

Festival of the Body exhibition runs until 29th of March. Find out more here.