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Mary Kelly: Projects 1973-2010

Mary Kelly: Projects 1973-2010
Mary Kelly: Projects 1973-2010
Mary Kelly: Projects 1973-2010

Mary Kelly’s oeuvre famously tracks the story of womanhood, through feminism and motherhood and all the struggles beyond. Her value lies in making the cause seem at once universal and personal. Mary Kelly: Projects 1973-2010 at the Whitworth Gallery presents a selection of works tracing such themes.

The earliest piece is Post-Partum Document from 1973, a review of Kelly’s son’s development through records of his speech and nutrition. Refraining from being sentimental, the methodical content and display adds layers, which may interest a variety of viewers, rather than just parents. The random utterances of her child will touch even a stranger. Similarly, Kelly makes feminism seem relevant to today’s diverse viewers; one would be forgiven for thinking the cause is no longer prominent like it was in the 1970s. Multi-Story House from 2007 invites the visitor into the structure to read snippets of the innermost thoughts of the artist’s introduction to feminism. The glowing shapes entrance the viewer just as the artist was excited with the words:

“I remember thinking, WOW, a woman’s group! A woman’s anything!”, “Everyone had a voice”.

The recent date of this work reminds us that feminism has still not triumphed in this country, reinforced by recent news that considers women to be hit hardest by the current recession, having entered it on unequal economic terms.

Mary Kelly is not just interested in the feminist political agenda but considers war in the wider context. Extracts from those affected by war particularly make this exhibition universal. Quotes from soldiers in Iraq and those born around the Second World War remind us of the personal stories often forgotten in history.

Most of the pieces on display are heavy in text, making the visit somewhat demanding. However, it is some of the most gripping word art I have come across, as I got drawn into each of the stories from the artist’s life and others. Moreover, the works are beautifully presented so can be appreciated on a number of levels, even without discerning each in depth. The unapologetic bodily fluids in the stained nappies in Post-Partum Document was shocking upon its first appearance in 1976 but here is neutralised by the aesthetic display running throughout the exhibition.

Mary Kelly: Projects 1973-2010
until 12 June 2011

Whitworth Art Gallery
Oxford Road
0161 275 7450
until 12 June 2011

Tania Moore

Tuesday 5 April, 2011

About the author

Having left the classical beauty of Oxford where she grew up, Tania now enjoys the vibrancy that Manchester offers where she presently lives; she relishes its lively music scene as well as the ever-evolving contemporary art that is found in the city. Her interests lay primarily in the visual arts but extend to theatre, dance and literature. Further to visiting exhibitions, shows and events, she also practices art and dance. Tania has a degree in the History of Art and is currently undertaking an MA programme in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Manchester.