The Women’s Art Library curator Dr Althea Greenan explains the importance of collecting documentation about women’s art practice
Lining one of the walls of the large study space set aside for Special Collections and Archives at Goldsmiths are wooden shelf units filled with books and pamphlets demonstrating women’s engagement with the arts.
They hint at the extensive collection of print, photographic and artistic documentation stored away in the stack next door, as evidence of the lively project of the Women’s Art Library (WAL), dedicated to collecting documentation about women’s art practice.
The WAL emerged from the international women’s movement of the 1970s
It developed into a critical educational arts organisation and publisher, active until 2002 when it was gifted to Goldsmiths. It has since become a focus point for artistic research. My shift from working in the WAL from an arts organisation to a special collection & archive has positioned me as a curator, programming this kind of research.
I see artistic research as a way of maintaining the WAL’s original remit to promote women’s art.Dr Althea greenan
From the moment visitors take a seat at the long table, they are encouraged to see the study space as an invitation to explore with care, respect and imagination. In addition, when I bring out boxes of archived art projects and documentation, the materials encourage a collective re-imagining of how we value an individual’s art practice. Situated on the ground floor of the Library, I often introduce the collection as an alternative source challenging the knowledge systems and vocabularies organising the lending library’s mass produced art publications shelved on the 2nd floor.
The WAL’s collection was shaped by feminist women artists and art historians raising the visibility of women’s art practice
There are many books and catalogues that are duplicated between the two spaces. They did not begin by gathering books. They collected and organised 35mm colour transparencies of their artwork to form the Women Artists Slide Library. It was this initiative that developed into the diverse research resource renamed the Women’s Art Library.
As the curator of this collection, I become an instrument of exploration. I facilitate time and access to components as divergent as the posters are to the uncatalogued boxes of ephemera and documents in waiting. Artistic research reframes historical material, it takes items into new spaces. It uses a wide range of strategies such as facsimile (see ‘Empowered Printworks’) and online live performance (see ‘Queer to Me’).Dr Althea Greenan
My own exploration of the WAL is led by the artists and researchers drawn to it. They show me what’s so fiercely important about these hanging files and boxes and the space to unpack them.Dr althea greenan
Check the Goldsmiths’ archive and textile catalogue to get an idea of the extent of the WAL holdings.
Further resources at the WAL archive
- Althea Greenan, “Feminist Net-work: Digitization and performances of the Women’s Art Library slide collection”