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‘A Woman’s Place’ Examines a Feminist Spirit at Knole, Kent

The National Trust 600 year-old palace opened the exhibition yesterday.

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Yesterday marked the opening of A Woman’s Place, a new exhibition that looks at the life of a woman at Knole through creative intervention at the estate.

You know those inheritance-gone-wrong stories? Here’s one for you. In 1928, the rules of inheritance and the familiar tradition of passing the house to a male heir prevented Vita Sackville-West, the only child off the 3rd Baron Sackville, from inheriting the royal residence. It had been home to the Sackville family for four centuries.

‘A Woman’s Place’ Examines the Feminist Spirit of Knole, Kent

Alice May Williams, film still from 'By the Accident of your Birth', 2017

Alice May Williams, film still from ‘By the Accident of your Birth’, 2017

The loss of Knole was a tragedy for Vita Sackville-West, who was immortalised at the pen of Virginia Woolf in her novel Orlando. Hers and other women’s stories at Knole are now being uncovered and examined by A Woman’s Place through the work of six contemporary artists, including the 2017 Turner Prize winner, Lubaina Himid. The commissioned artists respond to themes of women and power through sculpture, film, online content and other interventions throughout the house and grounds at the historic home of the Sackville family. The project explores love, betrayal, class, gender and inheritance in order to bring to life Knole’s most fascinating, unrecognised women.

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A Woman’s Place includes a film by Alice Williams that explores formal categorisation that begins at birth with labels of gender, nationality and family and how such constructed identities shape our lives. Vita herself wrote: [gender is] ‘a technical fault over which we have no control.’

Flag design (work in progress) - Lubaina Himid, 2017

Flag design (work in progress) – Lubaina Himid, 2017

Himid’s work focuses on the women who served and lived in the background at Knole, including the unseen and little-documented Grace Robinson, described in the house inventory as a ‘blackamoor’ laundry maid. The Turner Prize winner will populate the courtyards at Knole with miniature paintings of overlooked workers and motifs of clothing and pattern, as well as producing a specially commissioned flag to fly over Knole for the duration of the project.

A Woman’s Place is directed and curated by Lucy Day and Eliza Gluckman; the project forms part of the National Trust’s Women and Power programme. This year-long programme celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the right to vote in the UK for the first time. You can listen to Rachael Lennon, curator of the programme, as part of our podcast special celebrating 100 years of suffrage.

When & Where: Until 4 November, Knole House, Sevenoaks TN15 0RP

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