Introducing the team: Briony Benge-Abbott

27 Apr

As Curator of The Women’s Library my role in the development of this exhibition was that of project management. I have worked in the museum sector for just over 3 years. Prior to this I undertook a foundation course in art and design before going to Bath Spa University where I studied Fine Art, specialising in painting. Whilst I greatly enjoyed the practical aspects of the course I also developed a strong interest in the theory of art, particularly that of the gaze. John Berger’s book Ways of Seeing was particularly influential on my approach to making and understanding art. I would often spend hours in local museums and art galleries with my sketchpad and pencils, studying the artefacts on display but also trying to capture the different ways in which visitors interacted with museum objects and looking for hidden meanings in the art works and exhibition design.

After leaving university I briefly attempted to make a living as an artist, but as anyone working in this field can testify it is incredibly difficult to make ends meet! I had no clue how to set myself up as a freelancer and spent most of my time working in a restaurant, often on my feet from 10am until midnight. It paid the rent but it certainly wasn’t my dream job. Disillusioned and almost two years out of university I decided to attempt a drastic change of career and flew over to Majorca for a month of walking the docks in Palma. I was trying to get a job as a stewardess on a super-yacht heading to the Caribbean. It sounded fantastic, but in many ways I am pretty relieved I didn’t manage to get a position, not least because I have since discovered that my sea-legs are pretty much non-existent!

It was only on return to the UK that I rekindled my love for art, design and heritage and decided to pursue a career in the museum sector. I had started volunteering in my local museum and at the same time came across the Museum Association’s Diversify scheme (now sadly finished) which sought to support people from ethnic minority backgrounds to enter the sector. This scheme enabled me to undertake an MA in Museology at the University of East Anglia, an extraordinary course which took place inside the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, enabling hands-on practical experience along with many opportunities to discuss theories behind the collecting and display of objects. The Diversify scheme also led me to The Women’s Library, where I undertook a 6 month placement with the curator.

I have been at The Women’s Library ever since, also working part-time at Brent Museum as Exhibitions Officer for a year and a half. I consider it a privilege to work with collections that capture the many ways in which women have actively fought and campaigned for equal opportunities, in addition to developing exhibitions that provide a space for the celebration of such achievements as well as redressing the under-representation of women’s experiences throughout history.

Last September I started full-time at the Library as the Curator’s maternity cover, joining the All Work and Low Pay team at the end of the long-exhibition process when the focus was on finalising the loans, signing off the design, finishing the text and organising the installation. For me, this period is the most exciting and yet exhausting part of creating an exhibition. All the different elements are being pulled together and excellent team work is essential. Luckily, I was joining a team of incredibly passionate and skilled women! It was also a great opportunity to work with some fascinating objects from the Library’s collection as well as those from the TUC Library, the Black Country Living Museum, the People’s History Museum, the Museum of English Rural Life and numerous objects from private lenders. The exhibition is on until 25th August so if you have not yet had a chance to visit it, then you’ve still got plenty of time!


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