Exhibition: Role Play @ PM Gallery & House

Madame Yevonde’s Goddesses series on display as part of Role Play, PM Gallery and House, 20th May – 3rd July

Madame Yevonde, Lady Michael Balcon as Minerva

Madame Yevonde was an innovator and visionary and one of the first to experiment with colour portrait photography at a time when it was dismissed as a passing fad. She worked in advertising and fashion, but is best remembered for her distinctive 1935 Goddesses collection of images, sixteen of which will be on show in this exhibition at PM Gallery and House, London.

The Goddesses presents such mythological figures as Europa and Medusa as portrayed by a series of 1930s society ladies in classical costume. Sitters included Lady Diana Mosley, wife of fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley as Venus; Mrs Anthony Eden, wife of the Foreign Secretary as the Muse of History; Lady Malcolm Campbell as Niobe; the Duchess of Wellington as Hecate; and Lady Alexandra Haig, daughter of Field Marshall Earl Haig as the temptress Circe.

nspired by the Goddesses, Neeta Madahar’s Florais a series of rich and theatrically staged photographic images of her female friends, which examine the power and social dynamics of portraiture. The images bear all the hallmarks of glossy, highly stylised publicity shots, but still crucially reveal the artifice behind each image. The photographs depict women revelling in the construction of a mythic kind of femininity, in which intense colour and touches of humour draw viewers closer into the works.

For the Flora series, Neeta Madahar invited her sitters to collaborate with her on the development of their portraits. She worked closely, on an equal footing, with each woman, kick-starting the dialogue by stipulating that each image incorporate a flower used as a woman’s forename. While the subjects chose their flower for different reasons, many had a story or connection with a significant woman in their lives. The sitters were also invited to contribute personal items for inclusion, provoking conversations and decisions that led the making of each portrait down its own unique path.

The series examines the relationship between fantasy ideals and projections of female beauty. These photographs of mature women in their thirties to fifties are hand-printed so that no digital retouching was used to remove flaws. The resulting images have all the vibrancy and high-gloss production of glamour portraits but are intrinsically intimate and proffer clues to the vulnerabilities of being human.

Our 21st century awareness of celebrity culture and the way older women are presented and viewed in the media enables us to consider Neeta Madahar and Madame Yevonde’s exaggerated images, with their knowingness about the power of performing femininity, as a bold exploration of the construction of feminine roles that is as relevant now as it ever has been.


Gallery Tour

Saturday 11 June at 2pm
FREE – Just turn up!

Please join us for an informal tour of the exhibition with exhibiting artist Neeta Madahar and Carol Swords, Programme Manager at PM Gallery & House.

In Conversation

Wednesday 29 June from 6pm, discussion to start at 7.30pm
FREE (Booking advisable to ensure a place)

Exhibiting artist Neeta Madahar will be in conversation where she will discuss the themes of the exhibition and the influence of Madame Yevonde. To book, call PM Gallery on 020 8567 1227 during our opening hours, or email pmgallery&house@ealing.gov.uk

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