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A new exhibition explores women’s freedom through objects that have shaped their bodies


Consent, Coercion and Constraint is a new online exhibition which explores the intricacies of women’s freedom, consent, coercion and constraint using objects of beauty, female reproduction and health.

Objects on display also demonstrate the pressures imposed on women’s bodies by society.

The exhibition highlights that women have not had a full agency over their bodies due to social pressures, force, ideological agendas, lack of information and lack of choice.

The diverse selection of objects in this exhibition, ranging from coiled brass collar to anti-hysteria pills, explore a complicated relationship between freedom and choice and shows that the former doesn’t necessarily equal the later. Women take medication, only to later discover debilitating side effects. Objects and practices are used by women to adhere to societal standards of beauty. Women are given no option but to accept what is commercialised for use or face completely loosing their freedom.

Behind objects that are promoted to appear like they allow women to be free, is a level of non-consent and efforts to sustain social subordination of women. The range of objects presented stresses that these efforts have been present across the ages and across the globe.

Curated by a group of MA students from the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, the exhibition invites visitors to reflect on the plight of women’s survival under social constrains.

Emilia Bazydlo, a student from the MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies course, said about working on the exhibition:

"On one hand, it is well known that women have had a subordinate status in society, so the exhibition doesn’t teach you anything new. On the other hand, the exhibition shows another side of Science Museum collection as it reflects social issues surrounding medicine and beauty-related technology.

"It was important for us to make the display relatable on some level to many, hence the broad selection of objects."

MA Arts Management and Heritage Studies student, Xiaoqiao Yan, said:

"I really like our concept for the whole exhibition. Our starting point was women’s oppression and we manged to find objects that reflected complex relationships between society and women’s mental and physical health.

"We hope everyone can learn something from our exhibition and begin to think deeply about women throughout the centuries.

"We also hope that women will have enough courage to pursue their own dreams and we hope that the society will learn to respect it. I believe that this exhibition conveys an important message. I’m proud to be one of the curators of this display."

The objects shown in this exhibition have been selected from the Science Museum Group which holds a vast collection spanning medicine, science, technology and engineering.

Consent, Coercion, Constraint: Exploring women’s freedom through objects that have shaped their bodies runs to 6 March and is one of ten exhibitions curated by MA students from the University of Leeds as part of an Interpretations module.

Find our more and visit the exhibition.

Feature image

Detail from poster entitled ‘Women beware of Man made Medicine’, London, England, 1978-1980. 2009-101. Science Museum Group Collection Online. Accessed January 4, 2022. Creative Commons 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0).