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RCA artists, designers and researchers forging a gender equal world

For International Women’s Day 2021 we are celebrating the achievements of women at the RCA, and highlighting some recent student and alumni projects that take action for equality.


Professor Teal Triggs
Teal Triggs portrait
The theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge. It proposes that a challenged world is an alert world and that from challenge comes change. Reflecting on what this means for her practice and work at the RCA, Professor Teal Triggs, co-founder of the Women’s Design + Research Unit (WD+RU), commented: 

‘In a world where the new normal is constant change, an urgency exists for the survival of supportive communities. In my own practice, I am exploring the role intergenerational mentoring might bring for professional knowledge-sharing between womxn working in the field of graphic design. Together we can impact and empower change.’

Dr Nadia Danhash
Dr Nadia Danhash

When she first started working with and investing in start-ups, Dr Nadia Danhash, Director of InnovationRCA was often met with prejudice and ‘an awful lot of “mansplaining”’, which made her determined to prove her doubters wrong. Now, as Director of InnovationRCA Nadia understands the support women need in this still male dominated sector. 

‘Today, my “choose to challenge” is asserting that women founders are as deserving of financial backing as male founders and as capable of taking on global challenges and tackling them. We're proudly the backers of many women founders - we pretty much back more women founders than any other UK university with 31% of our founders being women. 

‘Sadly they tend to find it harder than their male counterparts to raise investment from investors at fair valuations. That's one of the reasons why we are keen to launch our own investment fund to back RCA talent irrespective of who that talent is and it’s also why we work so hard to build their faith in themselves.’

Reimagining a different future

Emma Talbot, Max Mara Prize, portrait by Thierry Bal
Emma Talbot, Max Mara Prize
© Whitechapel Gallery | Photographer: Thierry Bal

Emma Talbot (MA Painting, 1995 & Tutor, School of Arts & Humanities), is the most recent artist to show work with CIRCA, an innovative new platform for digital art that exists online and on the Piccadilly Lights, the iconic advertising space in Piccadilly Circus, London. Coinciding with International Women’s Day, and in collaboration with Whitechapel Gallery, Collezione Maramotti and the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, Emma will present four new animated films ‘Four Visions for a Hopeful Future’, on rotation at 20:21 (8.21pm) every evening in March.

Discussing the commission, Emma commented: ‘During lockdown, I’ve really had to ask myself how art could or should function. What can art do in relation to a set of contemporary conditions we’d never experienced before. [...] Situating my animations, that address the problematics of accelerated capitalist structures and their empty promises and appeal to us to reimagine our futures differently, within a space commonly used for advertising seemed apposite.’

Resistance and resilience through art and design research

Folashade Elizabeth Olukoya, Baby on river Nile, Ink stained papier-mâché on board, 100 x 120cm, 2017
Baby on river Nile, Folashade Elizabeth Olukoya 2017
Ink stained papier-mâché on board
100 x 120cm

Folashade Elizabeth Olukoya’s (MResRCA Fine Art & Humanities) practice-based research project ‘Re-empowering Disempowered Women: The Use of Materiality and Symbolism of Papier-mâché as Medium, Tool and Strategy of Resistance’ proposes that papier-mâché is an ideal material to channel and project the stories of silenced women through artistic representation. She writes that ‘in the context of women’s disempowerment, the denigrated, violated and transformative aspects of this material make it a useful vehicle for me to explore metaphors both of abuse and resilience.’

‘A Design Approach: Women and Disasters’ by Rute Crespo Fiadeiro
A Design Approach: Women and Disasters, Rute Crespo Fiadeiro
‘A Design Approach: Women and Disasters’ began as Rute Crespo Fiadeiro’s (MResRCA Design) MRes RCA project and has since developed into her PhD research at the RCA. She is considering how design-led approaches can challenge gendered structures in disaster response. Discussing Covid-19 she writes: ‘Women are not only susceptible to the short-term consequences of increased gender-based violence and unpaid domestic work but will also soon be paying the price for the long-term fall-outs that are yet to unfold.’

Addressing women’s health and safety

visualisation of a MOWO bus stop in Lima, Peru
MOWO, Zhuyin Xu, Kelly Holder, Georgia Mackenzie, Ilayda Kal, Kaelan O'Neill

One of the finalists for the RCA Grand Challenge 2020/21 was MOWO, a proposed transport system to improve women’s safety on public transport in Lima, Peru. In response to high levels of sexual violence towards women on public transport, the all-female team designed an integrated system that makes buses a safer environment for women travelling to and from their jobs.

MOWO is not the first RCA Grand Challenge project to address women’s health and safety. One of the RCA Grand Challenge 2018/19 winning projects was Nari, a menstrual cup sanitisation device for women in rural India. Using nanotech filtration, Nari’s sanitisation reduces the rate of infections from cleaning with contaminated water.

Challenging attitudes through design

Min Kim, Dear Daughter
Dear Daughter, Min Kim 2020
Min Kim’s (MA Visual Communication, 2020) graduate project ‘Dear Daughter’ uses a variable typeface to challenge advice that is often given to girls and young women which reinforces stereotypes and limits patterns of behaviour. This visual manifesto replaces phrases such as ‘You shouldn’t have a loud voice’ with ‘You can have a loud voice.’ Min also created a virtual performance in Animal Crossing New Horizons that playfully subverted and challenged attitudes towards gender.

a diagram showing need for more female engineers
‘Designing a Female for Engineering’, Shiv-Rani Mistry

‘Designing a Female for Engineering’ by Shiv-Rani Mistry (MA Global Innovation Design, 2020) is a satirical guide that provides an insight into the engineering sector from the viewpoint of female engineers. Developed as part of her MA dissertation, it identifies the common experiences, stereotypes and expectations of most women in engineering, challenging them and pointing out what needs to change.