New artwork explores the 'uncertain futures' of women over 50 post-Covid

A new collaborative artwork has been launched at Manchester Art Gallery, which aims to explore the futures of women in work in Greater Manchester after the coronavirus pandemic.

Uncertain Futures has been created by women from Manchester’s diverse communities, working alongside renowned artist Suzanne Lacy.

Developed with academics from The University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University, the project involved an advisory group of women - all activists and leaders in their communities - meeting weekly over the past 15 months, staying connected through the successive lockdowns. Working collectively to advocate for policy change, they have identified the issues confronting older women and work, particularly in the context of the pandemic.

Now, the group’s findings are going public, in the form of large banners on the front of Manchester Art Gallery, with questions including ‘Is her paid, unpaid and care work equally valued?’, ‘Does race or migration status affect her future?’ and ‘Post Covid, will she work again?’

Uncertain Futures will also host live interviews with 100 women from all walks of life selected by the advisory group, with extracts of their conversations displayed on the gallery’s walls. The installation, accompanied by a moving soundtrack of their voices by Manchester filmmaker Mark Thomas, will provide a platform for participating women, verify their experiences, and advocate for recognition of their value to society.

Even more women will be invited to small ‘Chai and Chat’ sessions designed to engage migrant, working class, and/or isolated women in the project. Still more are invited to take part through workshops, talks and media presentations open to the general public.

The advisory group and their partners have co-designed a unique programme of art, research and advocacy that naturally follows the three pillars of age-friendliness: connectivity, giving a platform and a voice to the issues raised, and celebrating age. Uncertain Futures has shown the group that the issues that affect women over 50 are what connect them; ageing is a shared experience, whatever their background, heritage and culture, and they are their own best advocates for change.

Tendayi Madzunzu from the advisory group said: “I was keen to participate in Uncertain Futures as I could see that for women over 50 this is a project that cuts across matters of ethnicity, immigration, economic status - both rich and poor. It makes women over 50 visible in society, particularly those who are from migrant, refugee, and asylum seeker backgrounds. It gives them a voice to share their experience, strengths and resilience. With my fellow members of the advisory group, I have seen that there is a potential for action and change by coming together and making our voices heard. We know the change that we want, and we are determined to make that happen.”

Jila Mozoun from the advisory group said: “I was happy to get to know all the wonderful women in the advisory group. I feel that Uncertain Futures is a good chance for women over 50 to have a voice. Through our meetings, I found out that all problems are the same for women – it doesn’t matter where you live. Women over 50 work, manage their lives, take care of others, often without money and support. We want to improve how we live as women. I want to share all I have learned in my life and all my skills with the next generation of women.”

Marie Greenhalgh from the advisory group said: “I supported one of the first forums for Uncertain Futures, and I was amazed at the breadth of experiences in my own community around work, non-work, volunteering, carving out their careers, impact of status, motherhood and women’s independence. As a group, we represent the lives of so many other women and with that comes a certain responsibility to make sure we listen to each other, learn, and grow together. I have been fascinated by each story told, every experience shared, and the strength and bravery of the women in the group. My hope is that women over 50 will be more visible in all their achievements and struggles in their own community. I want Uncertain Futures to raise awareness of the injustice and inequality around employment rights and opportunities for all women.”

This has been the most wonderful project to witness, evolving into something with true power and emotion, that has the potential to effect so many lives in the city. The Gallery has a long history as a city centre institution that has given a platform to support the rights of women. Suzanne Lacy has done what she does best – to listen and use art to create the space and time to give people a voice. Uncertain Futures clearly shows this: the convening role our museums can have for the people of Manchester.
Alistair Hudson, Director of Manchester Art Gallery

Uncertain Futures continues with an installation and programme of events in Manchester Art Gallery until 1 May 2022.