Under the headline BIG WOMEN, the Colchester gallery will showcase work by leading female artists; Renata Adela, Erica Åkerlund, Fiona Banner aka The Vanity Press, Kate Boxer, Yoko Brown, Angela Bulloch, Phillippa Clayden, Sonia Coode-Adams,  Vanessa Fristedt, Maggi Hambling, Pam Hogg, Rachel Howard, Merilyn Humphreys, Patricia Jordan, Princess Julia, Abigail Lane, Tory Lawrence, Millie Laws, Polly Morgan, Clare Palmier, Georgina Starr, Milly Thompson, Gillian Wearing, Sue Webster, and Lucas herself.

The exhibition promises a wealth of diverse artworks to enjoy – and a few surprises too.

The seed BIG WOMEN was planted when Lucas took a trip to Venice with her friend, fellow artist Kate Boxer, in 2017. As Sarah explains: I can’t put an exact age on when we stop being ‘Miss or ‘Señorita’ and start being ‘Madam’, or ‘Señora’, but by the time you’re in your mid-fifties you’ve definitely arrived. We got talking about what great fun it can be to be a Señora and talked about the concept of Señora with our women friends and it proved to be a very uplifting idea. Even as an idea it has the power to shift one’s outlook on life – in a positive way.”

The initial result of those conversations was a group exhibition in Vienna, SEÑORA! The show explored a number of themes and questions relating to womanhood. Inspired by its impact, Lucas and her colleagues began to follow up SEÑORA! with a corresponding exhibition, purely featuring British women artists.

“So here it is. BIG WOMEN at Firstsite, she says. An exhibition of sculpture, painting, film and fashion.”

Explaining the new exhibition’s content, she says: So much emphasis in our culture is on youth. When the media wants to arouse our sympathy, it’s all about children. The fashion and advertising media concentrates on young female beauty. The older woman is often overlooked, irrelevant, without currency. We live in an increasingly ageist society and this affects women disproportionately. I see BIG WOMEN as both an endorsement and a celebration of women’s achievement in the creative field. It aspires to be thought provoking, funny, serious, attractive and fun. God knows we need it in these times dominated by male aggression, politicking, greed, war and pig-headedness.”

People of a certain vintage may recognise the show’s title, as it is inspired by a popular TV drama made in the 1990’s. Big Women followed the progress of a group of feminists during the 1970’s, after they established a book publishing company. The television show was itself based on Fay Weldon’s novel, Praxis.

Lucas’ own experiences have informed the show: When I was at college, the contemporary art scene was male-dominated. I left art school in 1987. Freeze (organised by Damien Hirst) happened in 1988. It made a big splash, but predictably it was the male artists who were approached by the commercial galleries. Congratulations to them, of course, but nevertheless it was a depressing moment. Really a wake-up call for me. And then it did start to change – quite quickly. Women of my peer group started to be visible. And we’re still visible. So that’s something to celebrate!”

Indeed, as part of the exhibition, BIG WOMEN will also include a festival/fete day complete with bands, DJ’s, food and drink.

Sally Shaw MBE, Director of Firstsite says: “At Firstsite we always go BIG or go home! So this exhibition is perfect for our massive building, and to fill it with artwork from all these exceptional women artists will be incredible. There will be every kind of art form you can imagine, with so much to experience – with pieces that make you think and others which will make you laugh as well.”

“BIG WOMEN celebrates the many female forms, the transformations women experience all through life, and how these changes provide freedom of expression. Those big ‘body events’ – in particular, the momentous shift which occurs in body and mind during peri-menopause and the menopause presents so many challenges. It requires a great deal of strength and resolve to ride all those changes – and all kinds of inventiveness and imagination – especially as women are often just expected to ‘get on with it’. Luckily, creativity has no age limit! And this amazing group of artists show how growing older can be liberating, and something to be revelled in. Anyone who is worried about getting older or being ‘past it’ needs to come to this exhibition – it will prove to you how much fun it can be!”