MODERN WOMEN - Binita Walia & Emilia Telese

6th February - 7th March, 2015

Modern Women is a new artist-led, artist-curated exhibition featuring the work of Binita Walia and Emilia Telese, exploring some of the challenges and issues faced by women from different cultural backgrounds in Asia and the Mediterranean, such as stereotypes, rigid gender roles, inequality, honour killings / feminicide as well as the implications of cultural migration and multiculturalism in society.

Works featured make use of site-specific installation, performance, photography, jewellery, video and textile media to create iconic, strong images that aim to provoke and challenge the viewer.

The exhibition also joins philosophical points of contact between Telese’s and Walia’s diverse body of work, both employing elements of real life and cultural background references, to create powerful messages around current social and political issues as well as creating a new collaboration between the two artists and Airspace Gallery, with a planned series of debates and events.

Emilia Telese explores the boundary between personal history and universal condition. Her work features elements of autobiography combined with conscious engagement, political and social debate, and the questioning and deconstruction of behaviour. In her work, she makes use of performance, installation, interactive technology, film, literature, and public art. Her works for 'Modern Women' continue her line of research examining the image of women in the media, beauty stereotypes and the distorted image of self. They include Femminicidio, a site-specific installation on domestic violence, Elizabeth, a series of billboards with performative elements combining iconic Hollywood imagery with gender stereotypes in the South of Italy, and Everyday Icons, a series of large-scale photographs exploring classic Italian Renaissance icon motifs in everyday, contemporary settings.

Binita Walia’s work features pieces from her installation series The Modern Woman, exploring cultural rebelliousness, gender heritage and women’s sense of duty, making use of video, textiles and everyday objects. In this exhibition, it will include Too Busy, an installation using a heirloom sari and gold as a symbol of cultural heritage, Secret Ingredients, a series of sculptural aluminium cooking vessels and gold leaf exploring the emotional value of food, Forewarned is forearmed?, a video piece illustrating a bride shopping for a wedding sari and Always and Forever, a jewellery piece making use of gold to elevate the mundanity of everyday chores.

The exhibition will use AirSpace Gallery’s double window space as a billboard, showing the exhibition title MODERN WOMEN with each artist impersonating a film poster of their opposite cultures: Binita Walia as the heroine of an Italian movie, and Emilia Telese as that of an Asian movie.

Modern Women is funded by Arts Council England's Grants for the Arts programme.

Binita Walia, (l-r), Mirror Mirror VS Sugar and Spice, 2014 | Always and Forever (Gold Carrie Necklace), 2014 | Film Still from Forewarned is Forearmed?, 2015

I use list-making as an artistic process, feeding back and contributing to both personal life and artistic practice. Many people order and manage their complex life through lists. The potency of these lists to express the minutiae of life is evident and I elevate the ordinary feats of everyday tasks to a higher status by writing them and recreating them in gold.
Binita Walia

Emilia Telese, (l-r), Butterfield 8, 2015 | Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,, 2015 | Sacra Famiglia, 2002 - 2015

My work is concerned with the continuous questioning of social constraints and conventions. I try to generate knowledge through the visual representation of these questions, and the deconstruction of society's clichés. My work focuses on the way the mind and body are affected and transformed by external elements and impulses, and the inter-relation between intimate consciousness and public perception.
Emilia Telese

The exhibition will be accompanied by debate events about the issues explored within it, such as Asian and Italian migration and gender stereotypes.


Preview Evening
Friday 6 February 2015 6pm - 9pm
Featuring a performance by Emilia Telese 7.30-8.30pm

London Event
SAWCC (South Asian Women’s Creative Collective) host ‘Modern Women’
Friday 20 February 7.30pm
at The Rich Mix
Talk, performance and video showing. Followed by a discussion about the exhibition with the artists.

Modern Women Curators Talk
Saturday 7th February 3pm-4pm
Join exhibition curators and artists Binita Walia and Emilia Telese for a tour of Modern Women and a talk about the issues involved.
Reserve a Place:

Modern Women Workshop and Talk
Saturday 7th March 2pm-5pm
Ahead of International Women’s Day join Modern Women curators and artists Binita Walia and Emilia Telese for a combined artists’ talk and workshop.
The Artists’ Talk will lead into a Making Workshop, where, through conversation with the artists, there will be the opportunity to explore the issues and themes raised by the exhibited works, such as gender, race and cultural stereotyping, to learn about how they make their work, and the chance to make your own Modern Women-inspired artworks.
Reserve a place:

by Mark Segal

It is extraordinary that in the 21st Century women still find it necessary to contend with and challenge cultural, political
and economic discrimination. Is it really true that the phrase ‘Modern Woman’ can be considered, used as, a criticism, a judgement upon a lifestyle, opinion or dress, instead of the compliment it should be?

Both of these artists are considering the role and place of women, bringing a visual exploration to appropriated personal and public contexts, from traditional South Asian dress, the sari (Walia’s Forearmed is Forewarned?), to film posters and the stars represented (Telese’s Elizabeth) while exposing some of the brutality (Telese’s Femminicidio) that women
today live with. There is much here to be celebrated (fashion, cooking etc) but quite a lot to also be concerned about.

It is over ten years since Parminder Nagra played Jess in Gurinder Chadha’s ‘Bend it like Beckham’ and over twenty since that directors first feature, Bhaji on the Beach, both of which deal with the challenges of cultural displacement while celebrating independence and modernity. It’s nearly fifty years since Patty Pravo’s La bambola (1968) was an Italian hit for the singer when she was a symbol of defiance of codes and morality in Italy in the late 1960’s.

Binita Walia appropriates gold, the symbol of prosperity, as a trigger to prompt respect. Gold, used across many cultures to exert power, influence and control; to establish ownership, and awe the impressionable – is here used to illustrate and list the mundane, everyday activities that are, unfortunately, mostly (still), undertaken by women. It’s a methodology she repeats through various works, which again, emphasises, but also acts as an artistic signature drawing the works together.

Emilia Telese has always drawn extensively from her family and personal narrative for her work. For Sacra Famiglia she elevates family photographs to
iconic status by appropriating themes
and compositions from Medieval and Renaissance art cleverly making use of natural and artificial lighting to reference chiaroscuro. Contrasting this celebration and elevation of family is Elizabeth, a large scale photographic installation
with performance. Here she draws upon comments regularly made by traditional families in southern Italy – where there
still remain strong moral codes – when
a young female relative’s number of boyfriends is critically compared to the seven husbands of Elizabeth Taylor. Posing herself to recreate movie posters from Taylor’s career, Telese rejects this criticism on behalf of young Italian women, revelling in a so called ‘promiscuity’ while continuing her study of the media’s obsession with celebrity.

Cuisine is critical in both South Asian and Italian culture, but here it is only Walia that addresses cooking (much like another British born artist of Indian descent, Jasleen Kaur), celebrating the communal cooking methods and recipes’ of her parents generation in Secret Ingredients, by writing the family recipes in gold leaf in the pots which are repurposed as sculpture. Replacing the names of key ingredients with evocative words adds a melancholy, a key awareness of the amount of work undertaken by certain family members.

Walia’s lists play a critical potent
part in transporting the everyday to important events (communal cooking, weddings, personal jewellery etc.). In Secret Ingredients, above, she’s mainly listing ingredients, while for Too Busy
she is completing the decoration of
her grandmothers black chiffon sari by adding her personal to-do lists in gold acrylic. This family heirloom, a sari dating from the 1950’s, is also repurposed as
an artwork – installed on a washing line, domesticity is emphasised, while it also acts as a curtain, hiding viewers from
one another, much like domestic duties can be hidden or forgotten. Walia’s film, Forearmed is Forewarned takes us on a visually rich journey, on what looks like a wintery evening, to purchase a wedding sari, encountering the opulent materials lavishly decorated, which are available on Leicester’s ‘Golden Mile’. Accompanying the film, an audio reading of Walia’s to-
do lists gently whispers a warning of the challenges ahead for a married working mother.

In 2014 Malala Yousafzai was awarded
a Nobel prize for fighting for education, after being shot by a Taliban gunman in
a 2012 assignation attempt for writing about life under the Taliban. Telese’s Femminicidio, built and installed specially for the AirSpace toilets, transforms the space into a prison cell. Retaining its use as a restroom, female visitors find it’s
also a domestic space, so both prison
and a home, the place of the female
victim of domestic abuse. Femminicidio (feminicide) is the killing of women by their spouses, which in Italy, until 1981, could be considered a mitigating circumstance where ‘passion caused offence to his honour’ – the use of violence towards women is a rising concern today around the globe.

Emilia Telese appropriates images and situations, reworking and re- contextualising through the insertion of herself, either as performer or as subject. Binita Walia on the other hand makes lists and re purposes activity and objects. For this exhibition, where much of the artists works complements one another, a new joint commission, Film Posters is also presented, dramatically in the windows of AirSpace Gallery. The artists work together, recreating two posters from significant films from Italy and India which portray female protagonists as heroines. By placing themselves in the posters as the lead actors, they appropriate the roles and celebrate positive portrayals of strong independent women from the forties and fifties – a further reference to the length of time women have fought for equality and recognition.

Both artists are reclaiming ground 
for themselves, subjects of their own ambitions, hopes, creativity and personality rejecting the idea they are the objects of bygone habits and traditions or male objectification.

Mark Segal currently works supporting artist development through theartistsagency, assisting individual artists in practice and career development, including career planning, proposal writing, specific project development and management, increasing sector profile, brokering and negotiation with commissioners and clients as well as grant applications. He also works for individuals and organisations on a project by project basis where requested. Mark was Director of ArtSway between 1999 and 2011, developing and delivering a highly regarded exhibition and engagement programme, which included one unofficial exhibition and four official collateral exhibitions for the Venice Biennale between 2003 and 2011, innovative professional development programmes supported by Esmee Fairburn Foundation and then the Leverhulme Trust and contributing to the development of regional professional networks for the visual arts in the south east of England.

Less information

Modern Women is a new artist-led, artist-curated exhibition featuring the work of Binita Walia and Emilia Telese, exploring some of the challenges and issues faced by women from different cultural backgrounds in Asia and the Mediterranean, such as stereotypes, rigid gender roles, inequality, honour killings / feminicide as well as the implications of cultural migration and multiculturalism in society.

More information


Modern Women poster
Modern Women Gallery installation view
Modern Women Gallery installation view
Modern Women Emilia Telese
Modern Women Emilia Telese
Modern Women Emilia Telese
Modern Women Binita Walia
Modern Women Binita Walia
Modern Women Outside View
Modern Women poster

images courtesy of Mark Reeves

AirSpace Gallery is a collaborative, artist led project in Stoke-on-Trent, providing professional development opportunities, studio and exhibiting space and support for artists.

Through a dynamic and evolving programme of exhibitions, events and activities AirSpace Gallery brings critical, high quality contemporary art to the region and provides opportunities for a broad range of artists.

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