In 2018, to celebrate the centenary of the first British women getting the vote, Milton Keynes Museum asked local women to suggest objects which best represented their lives.
The stories that accompany those objects are now being told in a thought-provoking new exhibition.
The HERstory in Objects exhibition has been inspired by the book, A History of Women in 100 Objects.
“Like the fascinating collection of objects in the book – which features everything from the corset and contraceptive pill to the car – we’re aiming for an exhibition that is challenging, inclusive, brave and fun!’ said Jane Matthews from the museum.
“We want to inspire and provoke women – and men – to think differently about women’s lives.”
HERstory in Objects is an incredible large-scale collection of loaned and donated objects, which offer a fascinating insight into the lives of women through time; from medieval punishments, to the hard-fought battle to win the vote, and today’s modern woman.
HERstory will show women in industry, women as mothers, and how women have been perceived, judged, and treated throughout history.
It is an exploration, and a celebration of the feminine form
HERstory shows extraordinary women, looks at women in public life, and investigates the long path to equality.
Visitors to the show, which is being housed in one of the museum’s two new galleries, will be able to celebrate the achievement of local women too – from a celebrated nurse to a jazz star!
Items include a medieval ducking stool and a scold’s bridle, both used as punishment for women who dared to speak out in centuries past, and a judge’s robes, which serve as a celebration of progress.
The robes show today’s women as law makers – where they once suffered from draconian rules, they are now in the position of authority and using their power for good.
Body and image features strongly too: Baby scan photos, forceps and a birthing chair are among the many items associated with motherhood.
HERstory also explores childlessness, through choice and circumstance.
HERstory has been made possible with funding and sponsorship by MK Community Foundation, Armour Systems and MK Council.
Some of the items associated with HERstory mightn’t seem extraordinary, but the stories associated with them certainly are – like the hairdryer taken by its hairdresser owner when she fled Syria with her husband and family. They lost nearly all their possessions in their haste to leave, but keeping the hairdryer was a conscious decision. And what it stands for is precious.
Iman said: “My hairdryer reminds me of Syria but it also reminds me that I am not just a refugee – I am a hairdresser and one day I will work professionally again, here in the UK.”
Milton Keynes Museum prides itself on being an interactive hub, and HERstory is very hands on too; Interactive elements include a historic dressing up area for youngsters, and a whole host of handling objects. Those brave enough can try on a scold’s bridle, once used to silence women, for themselves!
Films and pictures celebrating women will be looped in a seated area, and visitors can also enter an African hut to hear one woman’s account of her own ‘cutting,’ and the impact it has had on her life.
HERstory also invites visitors to ponder the body and dress objects on display, before posting pictures of themselves on the selfie wall.
“This exhibition is for everyone, and we hope everyone who attends will participate, by suggesting their own object, sharing their own story in response to the objects on display, or adding a picture to our selfie wall,” Jane added.