This sequence begins with classic feminist texts of the 1970s and early 1980s. These paved the way for more recent works in which women use their own lives as subject matter. Part of the feminist project was, in Catherine Elwes’s words ‘to validate women’s private experience in the public arena of art’. 1995. 

Films showing in this section: 

11.13 Mary Kelly Antepartum 1973
11.18 Catherine Elwes There is a Myth 1984
11.27 Tracy Emin Why I Never Became a Dancer 1994

Mary Kelly Antepartum 1973

3 minutes. Collection: Artist 

This short tape, which can be shown continuously as a loop, reflects on art and motherhood. Sarah Kent wrote of Mary Kelly’s work: ‘First of all it is an assertion of female creativity and intelligence; secondly an analysis of the process of socialisation by which, she believes, women are taught to regard themselves as intrinsically second rate; and thirdly a fusion of the “feminine” role of motherhood and the “masculine” one of making art.’ 1978 


Mary Kelly was born in Iowa in 1941. She studied at the Pius 12th Institute, Florence, lectured at the American University Beirut, then studied at St Martins School of Art, London. Her film work was mostly collaborative: Nightcleaners (with Berwick Street Film Collective) and Women and Work (with Margaret Harrison and Kay Fido Hunt) both in 1975, and Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen’s Riddles of the Sphinx 1977. She returned to live and work in the USA in 1987. 

Catherine Elwes There is a Myth 1984

10 minutes. Collection: Lux 

In this tape Catherine Elwes subverts traditional pictorial representations of mother and infant son. She suggests that besides love, motherhood involves complex exchanges of power and control. She also rejects the film theorists’ assumption that the camera’s point of view is ‘male’, proposing instead ‘a mother’s timeless watching’. 


Catherine Elwes was born in St Maixent, France in 1952. She studied at the Slade School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London. A member of the Women Artists’ Collective, she co-organised the influential Women’s Images of Men and About Time exhibitions in 1980, and has curated many video exhibitions since. Active as a writer and tape-maker, she is Head of Fine Art at Camberwell College of Art. 

Tracy Emin Why I Never Became a Dancer 1994

6 minutes. Collection: Tate 

Why I Never Became a Dancer [formerly titled Why I Didn’t Become a Dancer ] is the artist’s account of the end of her childhood in Margate. She re-visits the scene of a humiliation at the hands of local lads, and describes the moment when she seized control of her life, and triumphed over them. 


Tracey Emin was born in 1963. She studied at Maidstone College of Art and the Royal College of Art, London. Initially a painter and printmaker, she ‘gave up art completely’ in 1991 following an abortion. She opened The Shop with Sarah Lucas in 1993, and began making videos. She was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999.