Women in Design Conference Kicks Off in National Museum

The National Museum of Ireland’s two-day Women in Design conference began today with a host of spirited lectures and panel discussions celebrating females in the industry.

Taking place in the Decorative Arts & History section of the museum in Dublin’s Collins Barracks, the day kicked off with an introduction from its director Lynn Scarff. She said: “The world is not often designed with everyone in mind. In a world designed by men, biases surround us. We live with them everyday.”

“Recently, we’ve been making much more explicit the work of women designers and artists – in particular with recent exhibitions by the excellent Niamh Barry and Alison Lowry. Thus, this particular conference has been an aspiration of the museum for a number of years. We see it as an opportunity for discussion, collaboration and forward planning ideas regarding this topic.”

Scarff then welcomed the festival’s first keynote speaker, co-founder of Grafton Architects and curator at the Venice Biennale Shelley McNamara. Titled ‘Freespace’, her lecture argued the merits of architecture as an art-form, despite its often practical and commercial nature.

McNamara showcased work from female architects worldwide that was featured at the Biennale. She also discussed the difficulty for some of these artists to make a name for themselves in the industry. According to her, this is on account of their age, gender and the fact that architectural works are often credited to a single person.

“The biggest injustice to young female designers is that they’re often not credited adequately for their contribution to major projects,” said McNamara. “Architecture is a collaborative process. Much of this injustice is down to single authorship as opposed to shared.”

Another keynote lecture at the conference had a similar theme. Curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Dr Juliet Kinchin paid tribute to some of the unsung women who developed and collected modern art for the influential gallery since its opening in 1929.

She also regaled a packed audience with true stories of successful female designers pre-MoMA. This included Margaret E. Knight, inventor of the flat-bottomed paper bag. She was the first woman awarded a US patent.

Between these hour long lectures, were smaller presentations all focused on a single topic. The highlight was artist Renata Pekowska’s talk on how women designers are shaping the visual identity of contemporary Dublin.

Citing the rise in art murals, projects such as Dublin Canvas and decorative shop fronts in the city,  Pekowska argued that Irish female artists today like Vanessa Power, Clara Dudley and Karen Harte are brightening the capital, while exploring contemporary issues in a new way.

The conference continues tomorrow (Saturday, May 25) with more events. This includes a keynote lecture from National Museum curator Dr Jennifer Goff.

Speaking about her goal going forward, National Museum director Lynn Scarff told audiences: “My vision for the National Museum of Ireland is that one day it will be a space where everyone sees their identity reflected in their national collection. That value should be at the forefront of what we do. That when you walk in – your identity, gender and what you hold in yourself – is reflected back in what you see.”

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