The opening of ‘100 Years of Graphic Communication by Women’ at the prestigious Central Saint Martins near King’s Cross Saint Pancras showcases works of female alumni and staff over the past century, including exhibits from both emerging designers as well as over 50 established practitioners such as Astrid Stavro and Lucienne Roberts.
To learn more we caught up with Ruth Sykes, curator of the exhibition, to learn why this needed to be women-centric and it’s contribution in reducing gender disparities.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I am a graphic designer and educator at Central Saint Martins and The London College of Communication. I graduated with degree in History from the University of Sussex in 1990 and then went on to gain a degree in Graphic Design from Central Saint Martins in 2001. Aside from teaching part-time at University of Arts London, I also design in partnership with Emily Wood from REG Design which we formed in 2003.
What is the exhibition about?
The show is about graphic design by female designers who studied or worked at Central Saint Martins, or the two colleges that joined to make CSM in the late 1980s – namely Saint Martin’s School of Art and the Central School of Art & Design (also previously known as the Central School of Arts & Crafts).
What made you want to curate this exhibition?
I am researching the history of women in graphic design in Britain, and the exhibition shows some of what I have found so far, in terms of the women with a CSM connection. I am not just interested in women connected to CSM, however to give the show a focus relevant to its location, in this case I used that criteria. It would be fantastic to do a similar show for LCC where I also work, in fact it would be a good show for all the places where graphics is taught!
Who is your target audience?
Students, graphic designers, members of the public interested in graphic design, design researchers and historians and historians of women’s history. The show also coincides with women’s history week, and UAL’s own Research Fortnight.
Why was it so important to be gender specific?
There is a growing movement to redress the gender imbalance in the representation of women in our industry, in design history and educational curricula, which does not reflect the number of women studying the subject or working within it, or the historical contribution women have made to graphic design. Being women-specific supports this movement and hopefully contributes to it.
Design tends to be a male-dominated industry, what advice do you have for females trying to break through?
For breaking through, my advice is the same for women and men: network. It’s not just what you know, but who you know. Where it gets more gender specific is around achieving and retaining senior creative positions within organisations, but as I set up my own design consultancy and went into teaching, I am not the best person to give advice about that! There are professional organisations that aim to widen diversity in the creative industries for example: The 3% Conference and Kerning The Gap who are much better placed to advise.
What do you think is the strongest piece in the show?
The show is a collective history so singling out one as the strongest is not possible. Some pieces of work are more famous than others, some deal with larger social issues than others, some would have been more difficult to produce than others, and some have had a more longevity than others….. there are around 100 pieces of work in the show and they are all wonderful.
Where do you see this exhibition going next?
I would like to build on what I have learnt from curating and producing the show and produce more public facing events that draw on academic research to contribute to reducing gender disparities in graphic design. I’ll continue with my Twitter feed @GraphicsUKwomen and aim to publish more research on my website.
This show will be open between 16th February and 25th March 2016 at the Window Gallery in Central Saint Martins. Opening times from 7am to 10pm every day (apart from the weekend of 20th & 21st when it is closed all day).