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All images courtesy of Open Eye Gallery, Tabitha Jussa, 2019


In conversation with Tracy Marshall and Lisa Tse of 209 Women



This year marks the 100-year anniversary since women won the right to vote. Despite this great achievement there continues to be a marked imbalance in gender equality, with female MPs forming 32% of the House of Commons. This inequality goes beyond our politics; it is deeply embedded in the arts culture where white male artists/curators/critics hold the most power. For me, the 209 Women project has proven two things; when women come together they can achieve incredible things, and the fight for equality is still very much ongoing. 

The all-female team behind 209 Women are Hilary Wood (Founder/Director of 209 Women and Photographer; Tracey Marshall is Director of Development and Partnerships at Open Eye Gallery; Cheryl Newman is an Artist and Curator; Lisa Tse is a Brand Consultant, TV Producer and found of women’s club The Sorority. The first exhibition took place at the Houses of Parliament on 14th December 2018, marking precisely the 100-year anniversary. The exhibition then travelled to Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool running from 28th February until 14th April, the penultimate showcase of all photographs is in the 209 Women book.

Andrea Allan: How did you come up with the idea and what was the starting point for getting this from idea to realisation? As a team you have quite a diverse range of skill sets. How did each of your roles in this project draw on your existing skill set, and what do you feel really pushed you? 

Tracy Marshall:  I found that my experience as a director of arts organisations over the last 10 years gave me the overall strategic focus that allowed me to see the wider view around budgets, development with funders and the positive and negative impacts of some of the choices and decisions we were making. i think this helped keep the project in a position of strength and to allow it now to have life beyond the actual exhibitions and books should we want it. 

Lisa Tse:Having spent the last decade working in the creative industry alongside luxury brands and global clients, I have witnessed a growing interest to align commercial activities with the arts to create more enriching and significant partnerships. Our agency support brand to develop their creative strategy, and 209 Women was an incredible project to share. We were thrilled to have the support of Aston Martin and the Power of Women TV series, as well as Montessori St Nicholas and The Sorority.


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AA: Why did you feel that this project was important?

TM: To consolidate so many women in significant and emerging roles within the arts and politics together was a really important moment for women empowering each other and to illustrate in this significant year how a collective of women could work and how impactful it could be as a result. 

LT: I often visited Parliament over the years for numerous meetings and events, and each time I looked around the hallways I never felt quite connected with what was represented on the walls of past and present MPs. So when I learnt of 209 Women’s vision to represent the UK women in power with a portrait takeover in Parliament- and to express that through a photographic artistic project-  it was absolutely superb.

AA: What else has come out of the initial project?

TM: The book has emerged as key popular outcome in addition to the collection being bought by parliament and a number going into the National Portrait Gallery archives. 

AA: With over 2,000 people at the opening of 209 Women at Open Eye Gallery, which was a record for the gallery of any opening event, what legacy do you hope to leave behind?

TM: I hope for us to have made an impact not just as a project empowering women but also as a key portrait show for the gallery and for photography history. 


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AA: What has been the main success for both you as a group, but also on a personal level?

TM: As a group the actual achieving this after such a long and tricky road at times, personally to have met and worked with such amazing women in photography and to have been able to help this project actually happen. 

LT: As a passionate advocate of women supporting women, 209 Women was personally a true testament to what can be achieved through collective unity and collaboration. Hilary had a wonderful vision, and one by one, each woman came on board and made a valuable contribution. I was delighted to have the support of our sisterhood at The Sorority who supported the project as Patrons, and we are all delighted and proud of what we have collectively achieved together. 

AA: On a project of this scale, organising 209 photographers and communicating with 209 MPS, alongside the organisation of the two exhibitions and funding for the project, what do you feel were the biggest challenges? 

TM: For me personally it was finding the money for it with no base or no previous reputation as a group working together.

LT: I got involved later in the project so timing for me one of the main challenges. Organising and coordinating every aspect of the project to bring it to fruition in a tight timescale is always going to be a challenge, but it channeled our focus and made us more determined to succeed.

Find out more about 209 Womenon their website: 209 Women

Instagram: 209Women