York sound exhibition turns up the volume on female artists

Sonia Boyces placards, Devotional Series. Picture: Charlotte GrahamSonia Boyces placards, Devotional Series. Picture: Charlotte Graham
Sonia Boyces placards, Devotional Series. Picture: Charlotte Graham
A new exhibition in York of the work of women sound artists explores sound as a subject and a medium. Yvette Huddleston spoke to curator Christine Eyene.

In our increasingly frantic, noisy modern world we don’t often get the opportunity to stop and really listen, but a new exhibition in York is presenting visitors with the chance to do exactly that.

Sounds Like Her: Gender, Sound Art and Sonic Cultures opened at the city’s art gallery last weekend and through the work of six women artists from culturally diverse backgrounds, the exhibition explores sound as a subject and a medium.

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Why Sir Alan Ayckbourn is one of the world’s greatest living playwrightsCurated by Christine Eyene, known for her research into feminist art and sound art from an African perspective, the show brings together the work of Ain Bailey, Sonia Boyce, Linda O’Keeffe, Christine Sun Kim, Madeleine Mbida and Magda Stawarska-Beavan.

Magda Stawarska-Beavan, Mother Tongue II. Picture: Lee Clark.Magda Stawarska-Beavan, Mother Tongue II. Picture: Lee Clark.
Magda Stawarska-Beavan, Mother Tongue II. Picture: Lee Clark.

Addressing gender imbalance

Part of Eyene’s aim with the exhibition, which features immersive installation, painting, print, drawing and video, was to address the gender imbalance in the sound art world.

“Women are hugely under-represented and undervalued in sound art so I wanted the show to reclaim a space where women’s practice can be valued,” she says.

“But also my creative practice is about championing diversity and so I wanted to show that there are sonic cultures around the world. As a curator I am concerned with reaching out to diverse audiences.”

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Madeleine Mbidas painting. Picture: Lee Clark.Madeleine Mbidas painting. Picture: Lee Clark.
Madeleine Mbidas painting. Picture: Lee Clark.

The moon landing is at the heart of a new space exhibition at the National Science and Media MuseumThe range of themes and media in the exhibition is wide and far-reaching with work representing sound in the broadest sense – among the subjects explored are noise pollution, synthetic sounds, rhythmic patterns, voice, language, sonic structures and experiencing sound through other senses.

Was it a conscious decision to find work that encompassed such an extensive spectrum, or a happy accident?

“I didn’t want to be prescriptive so I didn’t impose any particular themes, I just engaged with the artists on whatever project they were working on at the time,” says Eyene.

“The show really came together during the conversations I was having with the artists. For me the exhibition is about engaging with and experiencing sound in all its different aspects.”

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These aspects are represented in works such as Madeleine Mbida’s vividly coloured paintings of abstracted dancers and chromatic interpretations of the rhythmic patterns of Cameroonian music, Ain Bailey’s immersive sound piece The Pitch Sisters which features women attempting to force their voices into the ‘preferred’ female pitch, Linda O’Keefe’s Hybrid Soundscapes exploring the social and environmental impact of noise pollution, Magda Stawarska-Beavan’s prints materialising sound waves and the structure of words, Sonia Boyce’s installation of placards from her 30-year archive of black British female singers as part of her Devotional series and Deaf artist Christine Sun Kim’s representations of the materiality of sound. It’s fascinating stuff.

While many of us today walk around enclosed in our own little sound bubble through our constant connection to mobile devices, Eyene hopes the exhibition will encourage people to open out their listening habits.

“I’d like people to bring their own experiences of music and sound and find a bridge between what they know and what they hear. I want people to come out of the show understanding the importance of listening and feeling more connected to their sound environment .”

At York Art Gallery, until September 15.

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