The London Underground is giving women a say in their public space by literally giving them a platform.
Art on the Underground, Transport for London’s public art program, is commissioning a year-long program in 2018 that will feature women artists. The program was created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which granted suffrage to all men over 21 and to women over 30 who either owned land or had land-owning husbands. It is also a part of the mayor of London’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign, which aims to shine a light on the contributions and achievements of women in London.
The program features six artists’ works in different ways: on billboards at Brixton and Southwark stations, on the cover of tube maps, and on a platform at the Gloucester Road station. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a Nigerian-born artist, will be creating murals for Brixton. Crosby often uses photo collages in her paintings, and her work touches on issues of heritage, family, and cultural identity. British artist Heather Phillipson will be filling Gloucester’s more than 200-foot platform with a multimedia project that incorporates video screens, fiberglass, and a giant automated whisk. In Phillipson’s work, eggs are used as an entry point to think about overproduction and consumption. Other artists focus on a range of issues, using pastels, collages, and paint, scrutinizing everything from interactions on social media to the way society views the female body as a commodity.
“The spaces of our cities are not neutral, and neither is space afforded to public art. Wider social inequalities are played out in the structures of urban life,” Eleanor Pinfield, Head of Art on the Underground, said in a press release. “Through 2018, Art on the Underground will use its series of commissions to reframe public space, to allow artists’ voices of diverse backgrounds and generations to underline the message that there is no single women’s voice in art—there are however many urgent voices that can challenge the city’s structures of male power.”
The Representation of the People Act was not perfect—poor women, young women, uneducated women, were still left disenfranchised. But it was an important step on a march towards equality. Voting gave women a say in how they were governed. The #BehindEveryGreatyCity campaign is not going to fix the gender pay gap or entrenched social norms. But it is a way to remind the Tube’s riders that behind every great city, and beside every man, women are living and breathing and moving steadily forward.