MGM 2003 - Keeping Pace At The Women's Library

By Imogen Lillywhite | 29 May 2003
Shows a photograph of Hali by Lola Flash.

Left: Hali, Lola Flash. Image courtesy of the Women's Library.

Imogen Lillywhite managed to keep up with the pace of busy London life to get to this personal and moving exhibition.

Keeping Pace is an exploration of the lives of eleven older women in the East End of London.

The exhibition, at the Women's Library, London Metropolitan University, until the end of August, features photographs of the women by Lola Flash. They are mingled with audio and visual interviews and collections of the women's belongings.

The collection is curated by artist and writer, Rachel Lichtenstein. She says: "the women have allowed me into their homes and I think it is an incredibly brave and courageous thing to do."

A stone's throw away from Brick Lane, the Women's Library moved to its new home, a former public bath and wash house in 2002. By the building entrance, there is a slide show of photographs of women in the East End by Danielle Lamarche.

Entering the main exhibition and walking around the museum clockwise, the first thing you see is a case of the personal belongings of Chaaya. She is an Indian born woman who lived in Bangladesh as a child and moved to the East End as an adult.

Her exhibit tells of someone taking pleasure in face cream, perfume and chocolate after having a stroke and becoming dependent on her husband's care. She says: "If I have a good book and my perfume I am happy. No one can bother me."

Shows a photograph of Anna by Lola Flash.

Right: Anna, Lola Flash. Image courtesy of the Women's Library.

Then there are Flash's vibrant photographs, first of all, 68-year-old Hali, who arrived in the East End in 1962 as one of only five Somalian women.

One of the most intriguing women is 85-year-old Marga, who lives in an alternative community in the East End, which, she assures me, is subtly different from living in a commune.

Her optimism and refusal to grow old shine out of her exhibit. Her adventures on the No 8 bus route and swimming in Hampstead Ponds contrast with the story of Mary, who says she has had an iron gate fitted over her front door.

There is a side exhibition of paintings of older women who live in Tower Hamlets by Christina Weisleitner, and transcripts of interviews about what it is like living there.

Finally, there is video footage of Eva, a Spitalfields character who hoped to feature in the exhibition and was filmed by Lichtenstein singing at a concert in November. Since then, she suffered a stroke and her doctors are using the video to encourage her to sing again.

Lichtenstein says: "Many of us miss out on the company and advice of older women in our lives today. I just hope that the people walking round this exhibition will be as inspired by the women as I have been."

She holds a magnifying glass up to these women who might otherwise never have shown the colours of their existence to a wider audience.

Reviewer Imogen Lillywhite is participating in the 24 Hour Museum / Museum and Galleries Month Arts Writing Prize.

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