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Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) is the UK’s sole Accredited Museum dedicated to women’s history, and is a Recognised Collection of National Significance in Scotland.


Set up in 1991, GWL is marking the beginning of its fourth decade with a two-year project to ‘look back to move forward’.


Art Unlocked is an online talk series by Art UK in collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies. This Curation is based on a talk by Sue John, Director of Operations, Resources & Enterprise at Glasgow Women's Library, on 9th March 2022. You can find a recording at: https://youtu.be/MdHxCU0YetQ

6 artworks
  • The texts featured here re-appropriate a slogan that was used by the Social Purity Movement. Barclay found inspiration in the collection’s Jus Suffragii magazines and Suffragette memorabilia: “I am interested in their notion of a ‘blameless life’, when compared to the moral codes which underlie contemporary society, and the sense of hypocrisy and guilt which seems to pervade. The phrase suggests a romanticized ideal of an innate feminine innocence, symbolized by the white flower, sometimes worn by suffragettes. Comparisons between feminine virtue and the purity of nature is outdated and sometimes complacent, but these groups also left a legacy of their struggle for progressive moral and social change which we still find inspiring.”

    Untitled 2012
    Claire Barclay (b.1968)
    Glasgow Women's Library
    Untitled
    © Claire Barclay. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Image credit: Glasgow Women's Library

  • Ciara Phillips’s work, Advice-giver, was made in response to items found in Glasgow Women's Library’s poster archive. ‘Don’t Call Me Girl!’ by the Chicago Women’s Graphics Collective (c.1975) and ‘It’s Even Worse in Europe’ by the Guerrilla Girls (1989), although not cited directly, express an attitude that Phillips brings to bear on her own work. The ‘Advice-giver’, a toucan that Phillips photographed in a city greenhouse in Zürich, suggests that we ‘Give a damn’ and refers to poster works by one of Phillips’ admired artists and educators, Corita Kent (1918-86).

    Advice-Giver 2012
    Ciara Phillips (b.1976)
    Glasgow Women's Library
    Advice-Giver
    © the artist. Image credit: Glasgow Women's Library

  • In this work photography and drawing are brought into close relation, and both are questioned as techniques for representing, and caring for, the past. The British artist Jo Spence (1934-92), whose autobiographical text Putting Myself in the Picture is the focus of this print, often asked who owned images, and especially images of the body. Davis reinstates such questioning here by treating Spence’s publication as the subject, and GWL as the subject’s stage: “What we need to do with our own pictures and with our own self-image, if you like, is to shift the emphasis back to a point where we understand that everything we do as women has a validity - not just not just the perfect moments.” Jo Spence, Spare Rib Reader, 1968.

    Not Just the Perfect Moments 2012
    Kate Davis (b.1977)
    Glasgow Women's Library
    Not Just the Perfect Moments
    © the artist. Image credit: Glasgow Women's Library

  • The focus for Women in the City is provided by the five geographical locations of GWL since its inception in Garnethill in 1991 to its current home in Bridgeton, in the East End of the city. Street names have been replaced with those of women whose contribution to the life of the city is acknowledged in the Women’s Heritage walking tours initiated by GWL. In the spirit of past work by Maria Pia Ercolini in Rome and Habiba Sarabi, Governor of Bamian, Afghanistan, we should call for the naming of streets in new areas of our towns and cities to reflect the presence of women. It’s interesting to note the continuation of this idea in works such as City of Women (2016) by Rebecca Solnit, re-naming stations on New York’s subway map after women.

    Women in the City 2012
    Jacki Parry (b.1941)
    Glasgow Women's Library
    Women in the City
    © the artist. Image credit: Glasgow Women's Library

  • Shauna McMullan combed GWL’s lending library, collecting the marginalia, specifically asterisks and starred items, from hundreds of the donated volumes. The resulting work, a piece composed of the marks made by women in the books that have ended up as part of GWL’s collection, placed on a blue ground, resonates with her past work, including Blue Spine, where McMullan worked with over 500 women in GWL’s and her own networks to create a new composite temporary public artwork made from donated books by women with a blue spine.

    165 Stars, Found in GWL Lending Library 2012
    Shauna McMullan (b.1971)
    Glasgow Women's Library
    165 Stars, Found in GWL Lending Library
    © the artist. Image credit: Glasgow Women's Library

  • Raging Dyke Network (RDN) was a group of radical separatist lesbians active in the late 1990s. It spanned across 52 locations from the UK, Europe, Canada and USA. At the network’s centre was an activist in Norwich, who donated materials – including personal letters and zines – to the Lesbian Archive at Glasgow Women’s Library in 2000. This edition of 20 postcards by Nicky Bird aims to represent the network’s scale and make visible a history often overlooked, without revealing the personal and political content that belonged to a group who identified themselves in terms of their separatist gender politics.

    Raging Dyke Network 2012
    Nicky Bird (b.1960)
    Glasgow Women's Library
    Raging Dyke Network
    © the artist. Image credit: Glasgow Women's Library