An Ongoing
Fight for Freedom

An Ongoing <br> Fight for Freedom

We’ve seen widespread protests take many different forms over the past few years. The #MeToo movement, founded by US civil rights activist Tarana Burke (b. 1973), rose to prominence across social media in 2017. It raised awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual violence, bringing attention to gender inequities and abuses of power. In 2020, anti-rape protests took place across Bangladesh and, today, Iranians are fighting against oppression, following Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody. The need to take a stand against injustice has sadly remained constant. This Spring, Acts of Resistance: Photography, Feminisms and the Art of Protest shows how photography has not only documented these moments but actively taken part in the feminist struggle. South London Gallery brings together 16 international artists – such as Zanele Muholi, Guerrilla Girls, Hannah Starkey and more – who engage with conversations around intersectionality, transnational solidarity and activism in the digital age. The show offers a historical survey of changing approaches over the past decade and how this had culminated in the “fourth wave.”

Presented thematically, the exhibition begins with work that addresses the still salient issue of a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. In one piece from the first section, we see thousands of archival photographs compiled by American artist and writer Carmen Winant (b. 1983). On display is The Last Safe Abortion (2023), which is a collage showing women’s health clinic workers and abortion care providers across Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio. The material comes from historical archives as well as more current scenes following the overturning of Roe vs Wade in June 2022. Winant’s assemblage shows women at work answering inquiries, holding training sessions and scheduling appointments. It’s a piece that pays respect to the day-to-day activities of people providing a key service and is a point of contrast with the large-scale personal, social and political impact of the right to abortions.

Another section of Acts of Resistance builds on to the notions of power and structural oppression alluded to in Winant’s work. Here, we find Italian Australian artist Raphaela Rosella’s (b. 1988) work confronting beaurocratic violence enacted by the prison system in Australia. She draws on her experiences being raised in Nimbin in New South Wales, Australia where “the carceral state’s presence is undeniably evident” from “the constant gaze of 24-hour surveillance cameras to sudden police raids targeting our businesses, homes and streets.” Her collaborative practice involves her family and friends who counter the depersonalised representations of their neighbourhood by sharing their lived experiences. In this way, their stories contribute towards a powerful counter archive made up of audio, photography and moving images.

Apsáalooke (Crow) artist Wendy Red Star (b. 1981) draws attention to silenced voices. Her multidisciplinary practice is concerned with bringing alternative Indigenous histories to the surface. In Map of the Allocated Lands of the Crow Reservation, Montana – A Tribute to Many Good Women (2019), she covers the wall of the gallery with an outline of the area in 1907. Over the top of this, she places pictures of Crow women today who have ties to the land following the matrilineal customs of the tribe. The patriarchal structure of land allotment enacted by the federal government following the 1880 Crow Peace Delegation not only broke up Indigenous territories but also flouted important traditions. In an interview with Abaki Beck from Aperture the artist states: “A lot of people will say, ‘Well, that’s just Native history.’ No, that’s everybody’s history who lives on this continent. It’s about decolonizing the way people are seeing things.”

We’re still seeing gender discrimination and violence take place across societies all around the world. With such a charged subject matter, photography not only serves the documentary purpose of highlighting realities. from the seismic to the mundane, but is a tool to fight for change. It’s a way for us to understand the nuances of each woman’s perspective and truly see eye to eye. As Charlotte Jansen aptly summarises in a review for the Guardian. “Acts of Resistance seeks to decolonise feminism and offer a more pluralistic idea of a female-led movement. It also shows photography’s value as a powerful tool of protest.”

South London Gallery, Acts of Resistance | Until 9 June

Image Credits:

  1. Hoda Afshar, Untitled #14 from the In Turn series, 2023. © Hoda Afshar. Image courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Meeanjin / Brisbane.
  2. Zanele Muholi, Bester, New York, 2019. © Zanele Muholi. Courtesy Yancey Richardson, NY.