Stepping into a rusty lift and making our way up to a run-down space with crumbling walls and uneven cement flooring in an industrial building in Kennedy Town is reminiscent of the guerilla art exhibitions once popular in New York’s Meatpacking district or the factories in Shoreditch London well before these areas became the gentrified hubs they are today. Finding the right location was part of the process in creating the right look and feel for the second port-of-call of Annie Leibovitz’s 10-city travelling exhibition, WOMEN: New Portraits.
“I didn’t want to use a place that already had an identity for showing art. I wanted a place we could claim for ourselves; I wanted to participate in the revitalisation of this space,” recalls the photographer. “I like that it’s a bit of Old Hong Kong and in an area that’s up-and-coming; there’s no doubt that this area will be an important art area.”
Misty Copeland, New York City, 2015 © Annie Leibovitz. From WOMEN: New Portraits
The theme of temporality is justly warranted: the portraits are casually strung up on rope and affixed to a pinboard rather than neatly framed and mounted as they would be in a gallery. Three large screens project revolving images, including a trio of black and white portraits of the late Zaha Hadid that captures the architect’s larger-than-life presence and serves to remind us of her lasting impact in a male-dominated field.
The exhibition spans a spectrum of images, from earlier photos taken from magazine photo shoots and shots from her book, Women, which she co-created with Susan Sontag in 1999, to newer works commissioned by UBS. “The idea was to show what women look like now; what roles they play. Susan and I always talked about [the project] as a work-in-progress. It’s not a subject that can easily be wrapped up, and I knew that I would update it at some point,” recalls Leibovitz. Many of the women depicted are American as well as pioneers in their field, but not all of them are world renowned. Next to photographs of Jane Goodall, Aung San Suu Kyi, Malala Yousafzai and Misty Copeland is a series on topless Las Vegas showgirls – because they, too, are women who should be celebrated.
American feminist, journalist and activist Gloria Steinem, whose portrait is among the many on display, sums up the show the best by writing: “Annie Leibovitz captures women in all our human variety and idiosyncrasy, simplicity and artifice, bravery and fear, creativity of mind as well as womb: in other words, in all our humanity. No notion as limited as gender can account for all the truths in this exhibit.”
WOMEN: New Portraits runs from June 3-26 at 3/F Cheung Hing Industrial Building, 12P Smithfield Rd, Kennedy Town.
Highlight image: Annie Leibovitz, New York City, 2012 © Annie Leibovitz; other images courtesy of Leanne Mirandilla and Beverly Cheng