This autumn, Tate Britain shines a light on Women and Work looking at the industrial issues of the 1970s from an overtly feminist perspective
Between 1973 and 1975 Margaret Harrison (born 1940), Kay Hunt (1933–2001) and Mary Kelly (born 1941) conducted a detailed study of women who worked in a metal box factory in Bermondsey. Their investigation was timed to coincide with the implementation of the Equal Pay Act, which had been passed in 1970. The artists collected a vast amount of data through interviews, archival research and observation.
The use of sociological method as a conceptual strategy is emphasised by the minimalist look of the work itself, where black and white photographs and films sit alongside simple typewritten texts and photocopied charts and documents. Punch cards and rates of pay record the gap in wages between men and women, and films of life in the factory show women confined to repetitive, stationary and low-skilled tasks while men perform more physical and supervisory roles.
Women and Work was one of the earliest projects to tackle political and industrial issues from an overtly feminist perspective. Objective and subjective points of view coexist and the points of contact between the personal and the political, the public and the private are themes that run throughout. The named portraits of women employees put human faces to the facts and figures and invite the viewer to engage with the issues on more personal terms.
Margaret Harrison’s work is also included in the display Homeworkers at Tate Modern.
This display has been devised by curators Emma Chambers and Katharine Stout.