London Exhibition Explores the Link Between Gender and Ecology

“Re/Sisters,” now open at the Barbican Art Gallery, features the works of nearly 50 women and nonbinary artists

Pamela Singh's Chipko Tree Huggers of the Himalayas #4, 1994
Pamela Singh's Chipko Tree Huggers of the Himalayas #4, 1994 © Pamela Singh / Courtesy of sepiaEYE

The destruction of the planet is inextricably intertwined with the oppression of women. That’s the central message of a new exhibition on ecofeminism that opened this week at London’s Barbican Art Gallery. Titled “Re/Sisters: A Lens on Gender and Ecology,” it features nearly 50 women and gender non-conforming artists from around the world who use film, photography, performance art and more to imagine a more environmentally and socially just future.

The exhibition “interrogates the disproportionate detrimental effects of extractive capitalism on women,” says Shanay Jhaveri, the Barbican’s head of visual arts, in a statement. “We hope that in contrast to a rhetoric that is often cynical about environmentalism, it offers visitors a thoughtful, optimistic and sometimes joyful way to consider the world’s current climate.”

The show features over 250 works across several themed sections: the politics of extraction, acts of protest and resistance, the labor of ecological care, environmental racism and queerness and fluidity in the face of rigid social structures and hierarchies.

“This is really a show that is shining a light on the nefarious activities that go hand-in-hand with gender-based violence and nature-based violence, and how we begin to bring these two constituent struggles together,” curator Alona Pardo tells Natalie Hanman of the Guardian. “It becomes much more meaningful for all of us—we can all feel a part of that struggle and part of the resistance.”

Maggie Murray's Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp—Embrace the Base Action 12/12/1982
Maggie Murray's Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp—Embrace the Base Action 12/12/1982 © Maggie Murray / Format Photographers Archive at Bishopsgate Institute / Courtesy of Bishopsgate Institute

Ecofeminism rose to popularity in the 1970s, with activists like Carolyn Merchant, an environmental historian at the University of California at Berkeley, leading the way. “Ecofeminism challenged the idea that men were identified with culture and hence were superior to women who were identified with nature,” she told Sydney Schoonover of the Daily Californian in 2018. “Women challenged this hierarchy and demonstrated that women were saving the earth from destruction.”

As Pardo tells the Guardian, ecofeminism later “fell out of fashion” for being too essentialist, relying on gendered terms like “Mother Nature.” The movement was also criticized for often ignoring the activism of Indigenous women and the ways that climate change disproportionately affected women of color.

Conversely, Pardo sees “Re/Sisters” as a celebration of “a radical, intersectional and decolonial brand of ecofeminism.” The show also includes the work of gender non-conforming artists. “We don’t use the word ‘female’” in the exhibition, adds Pardo. “We’ve really tried to be as inclusive as you possibly can be.”

The Evening Standard’s Ben Luke writes that “a sense of haunting runs through the show” and that “it is, appropriately, intense.” He cites the works of Singaporean artist Simryn Gill, whose photographic depictions of plastics clogging up lakes and dams look like “lacerations on the face of the earth.” He also mentions Dionne Lee, whose collage work shows her tearing up images of landscapes blighted by the history of slavery.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, guests can see protest photographs from the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, performance art by the late Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta and an experimental film by Korean-German artist Anne Duk Hee Jordan examining the sexuality of aquatic life.

Re/Sisters: A Lens on Gender and Ecology” is on view at the Barbican Art Gallery through January 14, 2024.

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