All-female sculpture collective taking inspiration from Kelham Island Museum

Posted by: Ashley Birch
All-female sculpture collective taking inspiration from Kelham Island Museum supporting image

Seven Sheffield artists have worked with the industrial collections at the museum to produce a temporary sculpture exhibition nestled amongst the galleries

A new temporary exhibition, “What is the Matter? Materials, Commodities, Narratives” will showcase the work of seven female sculptors in Kelham Island Museum from 12 – 29 September.


The exhibition has been created by Material Voice, a newly formed collective of artists based in Sheffield who represent diverse voices, ‘united in the sculptural exploration of materials and as women artists seeking visibility.’


For this exhibition the artists have worked with the industrial collection of the museum to offer visitors the opportunity to encounter contemporary works of art amongst its regular displays.


Artists Gillian Brent and Sarah Villeneau from Material Voice said of the exhibition: "What is the Matter is the inaugural exhibition of our newly formed collective of women sculptors from Sheffield.  It has been eye-opening to get behind the scenes at the museum, and wonderful that the museum have supported us so enthusiastically. 


“Using our perspective as contemporary artists who work with a range of materials, we hope by sharing our personal interpretations, visitors will find, as we have, new insights into the museum displays”


Each artist has developed new work in response to the site and museum collections. The Crossley Gas Engine was a point of departure for artist Heliya Badakhshan, who has used lubricant oil in her sculpture.  Usually required to reduce friction in moving parts and prevent rust, Badakhshan has instead worked with the reflective properties of the oil, pooling it around handmade objects so that their forms and colours are mirrored. 


Seiko Kinoshita was also drawn to the unexpected beauty of industrial machinery.  Kinoshita has reworked the design of several machine components, remaking their forms out of fragile materials and thus removing their practical purpose, to focus purely on their aesthetic qualities as sculptural objects. 


Steel manufacture was the lifeblood of Sheffield, and the people that made it were the lifeblood of the factories and steel mills. Responding to the visceral experience of the women who worked in the factories during the world wars Sarah Villeneau’s sculptures merge the machinery of industry with the workings of the body.


The role of women’s reproductive labour in the creation of Sheffield as an industrial powerhouse is highlighted in Clee Claire Lee’s work in Tom Parkin’s workshop, where Lee has drawn on elements of her family history to raise the profile of women’s contributions to the history of Steel City. 


In Dixon’s Workshop and the 1916 House, Gillian Brent considers the concept of work life balance for the working classes in the 19th and 20th Century, connecting the trials of cutlers and knife blade makers from the past with those of low paid skilled workers in today’s global economy. 


Mandy Gamsu focuses on cultures of excess and the production of unnecessary, luxury items by workers who are struggling to get by, with her reinterpretation of traditional asparagus dishes and serving accoutrements.


Sheffield has played a part in the huge, profitable worldwide snuff trade since the 1700s and the museum’s industrial snuff grinders caught the attention of Kate Langrish-Smith. Her presentation of ceramic forms take inspiration from the shapes of the grinding equipment, bringing the forms back to a human, domestic scale.


In the Exhibition Pod upstairs in the Museum, visitors can view additional selected works by each of the artists, offering a broader perspective on their individual practices. 


Museum Manager at Kelham Island Museum Chris Keady said: “We are committed to platforming different perspectives and encounters with the industrial collections.  These fascinating installations share new experiences and stories, and we can’t wait for visitors to come and experience them.”


Visitors to the museum can explore the exhibition during normal opening hours: Monday to Thursday 10am-4pm, Sunday 11am-4.45pm (closed Friday and Saturday).

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