Margaret Harrison, Homeworkers 1977

Margaret Harrison
Homeworkers 1977
© Margaret Harrison, photograph © Tate Photography

The works presented here  address gender divisions and political themes by subverting materials traditionally associated with feminine craft and the domestic sphere. 

Though different in tone and technique, these works are linked by an interest in textile production, a heavily gendered activity which has played a huge part in the construction of women’s identities as housekeepers, family carers, makers and workers. 

Margaret Harrison made Homeworkers in 1977 to denounce the working conditions of women in Britain, treated as second-rate labour and encouraged to perform low-pay manufacturing jobs from home. At the same time a political banner, a symbolic painting and a social study, it represents the everyday life of a working woman alongside make-up adverts and data on the history of workers’ movements. 

Geta Brǎtescu’s series of embroidered panels reflects on the tragic character of Medea as a complex symbol of subversive femininity. Abandoned by her husband Jason, Medea took revenge on him by sending his new bride a poisoned dress. Brǎtescu created several versions of the same motif, drawn on fabric using a sewing machine as a tool of rational detachment: like Medea, her use of feminine craft is a calculated and wry move. 

In Annette Messager’s The Pikes, soft figures and little drawings mounted on sticks may initially look like a playful parade of makeshift toys, but a closer inspection reveals a darker nature: severed heads and limbs hang like macabre trophies alongside images of traumatic events from history and mass media.

Curated by Ann Coxon and Valentina Ravaglia.
Text by Valentina Ravaglia.