A Woman’s Place

Kent Life - - National Trust - WORDS: Emma Ward PHO­TOS:

An ex­hi­bi­tion of art­works ex­plores how women have

helped shape Knole’s story and main­tain its spirit

Ciaran McCrickard/Na­tional Trust

For more than five cen­turies, women have played a cru­cial role in the his­tory of Knole, the for­mer me­dieval palace in the heart of Sevenoaks. Now, 100 years af­ter the Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Peo­ple Act of 1918 gave some women the right to vote in the UK, the Na­tional Trust is high­light­ing a se­lec­tion of their sto­ries.

A Woman’s Place, cur­rently run­ning at Knole, show­cases a se­ries of in­stal­la­tions that have been spe­cially cre­ated by six lead­ing fe­male artists. Each was chal­lenged to re­spond to themes of women and power at Knole through sculp­ture, film, on­line con­tent and other me­dia.

Women’s rights im­pacted on many of the women who called Knole home, no­tably,

Vita Sackville West, who was pre­vented from in­her­it­ing the es­tate from her fa­ther, the third Baron Sackville, due to the rules of in­her­i­tance that ex­isted in 1928.

Vita felt the loss deeply and it im­pacted the rest of her life, in­clud­ing her love af­fair with writer Vir­ginal Woolfe, who based her novel Or­lando on the story. Lon­don-based artist Lind­say Seers has cre­ated a web­site around this, and the rest of Vita and Vir­ginia’s story on their visit to Knole.

2017 Turner Prize win­ner Lubaina Himid has cho­sen to

fo­cus on the lit­tle-doc­u­mented ‘black­amoor laun­dry maid’ listed in the house in­ven­tory as Grace Robin­son. Lubaina hon­ours Knole’s many over­looked maids and do­mes­tic work­ers through a se­ries of minia­ture paint­ings and cloth­ing mo­tifs. A flag she has also de­signed will fly over Knole for the du­ra­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion.

Sculp­tor Emily Speed has taken in­spi­ra­tion from the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Vita Sackville West and her mother Vic­to­ria. She has in­stalled a work­ing foun­tain in the Orangery, based on a dress­ing ta­ble de­sign that shows the com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship that can ex­ist be­tween a mother and her daugh­ter along­side mo­ments of ten­der­ness, care and sen­su­al­ity.

A glass­work by CJ Ma­hony looks at the na­ture of own­er­ship and how women have helped care for Knole for cen­turies with­out ever ex­pect­ing to ac­tu­ally own it. In­clud­ing the Na­tional Trust staff who look af­ter it to­day and love the house and grounds.

Love of a very dif­fer­ent na­ture is ex­plored in Melanie Wil­son’s au­dio film based on 17th-cen­tury love let­ters be­tween Lady Anne Clif­ford and Lady Frances Cran­field. And fi­nally, film­maker Alice May Williams looks at how so­ci­ety for­mally cat­e­gorises peo­ple through such la­bels as gen­der, na­tion­al­ity or fam­ily.

Vita Sackville West wrote that gen­der is “a tech­ni­cal fault over which we have no con­trol.” Alice’s film ex­plores this con­cept and in­ves­ti­gates how la­bels can im­pact on the way our lives are shaped.

Co-di­rec­tor and cu­ra­tor Lucy Day says: “Knole gives us new ways to see how the lives of women have been and con­tinue to be in­flu­enced by no­tions of gen­der, place and time. The re­sponses by these six in­spir­ing artists pro­vide a space to pause and re­flect on the his­toric and cur­rent fight for equal­ity in this an­niver­sary year.”

ABOVE: A Woman’s Place launch at Knole, dress­ing ta­ble and foun­tain in the Orangery, by Emily Speed

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