Painting of three women in a restaurant eating their lunch on a lunch break. All three look bored, painted delicately. One is on her phone.

About Caroline Walker: Women's Work

Women's Work is Caroline Walker’s most comprehensive exhibition to date. It examines the often-unseen jobs performed by women, such as tailors and chambermaids, viewed from the side-lines in their otherwise unseen worlds.

The exhibition also portrays manicurists and hairdressers whose highly visible, yet undervalued work is part of a transaction with the female customers they serve. As Professor Tracey Warren suggests in her catalogue essay, “The exhibition encourages us to ponder crucial relationships between women workers and those who benefit from their labour.”

Originally Women's Work was to launch in April 2020 and was unfortunately postponed due to the global pandemic. During this period of isolation and uncertainty, Walker continued to paint; like many artists she chose to focus on subjects closer to home.

One of the unique aspects of the pandemic is the disproportionate impact on women in employment. Women's overrepresentation in lower paid sectors and occupations, such as hospitality, retail, or personal services, make them particularly vulnerable in the labour markets affected by the crisis. Crucially most of these jobs cannot be done remotely, which is limiting women's time and options to contribute to the economy.

Seen through the eyes of the pandemic, Walker’s work feels even more charged as we recognise with greater clarity the vulnerability of chambermaids, manicurists, and cleaners unable to work.

In her catalogue essay, Professor Griselda Pollock draws our attention to the act of looking and comments that, “Much seeing in art, notably when its subjects are women, have been structured by peeping, and even eroticised voyeurism, which has masculinised the position, whatever the gender or sexuality, of the viewer. Caroline Walker belongs in a now long tradition of artists who are women and who seek to see and show the world differently.”

The exhibition includes for the first time the artist’s preparatory studies, sketch books and ink drawings alongside small studies and large-scale works.

To coincide with the exhibition, MAC has commissioned a full colour illustration 52-page catalogue with new essays by Griselda Pollock, Professor of Social and Critical Histories of Art at the University of Leeds and Tracey Warren, Professor of Sociology at the University of Nottingham.

MAC also commissioned short interviews with some of the women featured in the paintings. These interviews have been expertly produced with great care by writer and sound documentarist Maria Margaronis to produce a series of personal interviews with some of the women featured in Caroline Walker's paintings. Listen to the interviews.

Caroline Walker, Three Maids, 2018. Private Collection.