Exhibiting artists: Natalie d’Arbeloff, Helen Billinghurst, Claudia Clare, Caroline Coon, Lucy Cox, Catherine Edmunds, Roxana Halls, Sadie Hennessy, Marguerite Horner, Barbara Howey, Shani Rhys James, Sal Jones, Jowonder, Sadie Lee, Cathy Lomax, Julia Maddison, Sonja Benskin Mesher, Wendy Nelson, Sarah Shaw, Stella Vine, Fionn Wilson.

‘Dear Christine’ aims to reclaim and reframe Christine Keeler (1942-2017), a woman castigated for her role in a notorious political scandal in the 1960s. Aged 19, she was catapulted into the limelight when her affair with John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, was revealed. The ‘Profumo Affair’ was a watershed moment in British cultural and political history that brought down the government of the time. Keeler was shamed in the tabloid press and suffered its full wrath as the dawn of the sexual revolution approached. Keeler, it could be argued, inadvertently challenged the prevailing morality and the hypocrisy of the establishment. As a woman behaving in a sexually free way, she pushed boundaries ahead of her time.

Keeler lived with the consequences of her notoriety for the rest of her life, saddled with the label of ‘prostitute’. As she said: “It’s been a misery for me, living with Christine Keeler”. Under constant scrutiny from the press, she became a recluse. In the later years of her life the tabloid press continued to hunt Keeler, featuring exposé shots focusing on her appearance as an older woman.

Exhibition curator Fionn Wilson says: “Christine Keeler is a significant figure in British history yet there is little recent artistic reference to her. I wanted to add to the visual record of her life, which represents themes still relevant to this day, including class, power and the politics of sex. The participating artists are women who offer their own perspective on a narrative that has mostly been led by men.”

Pauline Boty, a founder of the British Pop art movement in the 1960s, painted Keeler in the lost work, Scandal 63 (1963), and as part of ‘Dear Christine’, artist, feminist and activist Caroline Coon will be exhibiting an homage to the missing painting. Previously unseen photographs will be shown during the exhibition, courtesy of James Birch, a renowned curator and personal friend of Keeler’s. Contributors to the exhibition catalogue include journalist Julie Burchill and Amanda Coe, screenwriter and executive producer of the upcoming BBC series The Trial of Christine Keeler. The catalogue also includes a foreword from Keeler’s son, Seymour Platt.

‘Dear Christine’ comprises painting, ceramics, sculpture, music, film, photography, poetry, performance, artist talks and workshops. The preview on Friday 31 May, 5-8pm, will include the first performance of the commissioned piece of music, Dear Christine, written for Christine Keeler by award-winning composer Katie Chatburn. Her composition draws upon all the paintings in the exhibition and is an emotional response to the narrative of Keeler’s life. The refrain reflects being ‘caught in a loop’, just as variations on Keeler’s story still play out across society – in politics, in the media and our workplaces.

The exhibition is accompanied by a hardback catalogue with full colour illustrations, essays and poetry, in a limited edition of 100, available for £30. Contributors to the catalogue include: David Astbury, James Birch, Julie Burchill, Sarah Caulfield, Amanda Coe, Tanya Gold, Tara Hanks, Charlotte Innes, Kalliopi Minioudaki, Bo Gorzelak Pedersen, and Seymour Platt.

‘Dear Christine’ is part of the Festival of Women, produced by the Women of Tyneside project, a two-year community project at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM), funded by Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, which celebrates women and girls across Tyneside and works to identify and explore contemporary social issues relating to women and gender equality.

‘Dear Christine’ will tour to Elysium Gallery, Swansea, 5 October – 9 November 2019, and Arthouse1, London, 2-29 February 2020.

Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and Arts Council of Wales.

Dear Christine events

Saturday 1 June 2-4pm
Caroline Coon: I AM WHORE

Caroline Coon will deliver a talk examining themes including the shaming of women in a misogynist culture that punishes women for displaying sexual behaviour. As part of the discussion, the Divide and Rule questions she will ask are: what will we do, in the system of patriarchy, to stop men dividing women against each other the better to rule over us? Who will stand shoulder to shoulder with us whores? Caroline Coon is an artist, writer and political activist. Her artwork often explores sexual themes from a feminist standpoint.

Saturday 8 June 2-3.30pm
Claudia Clare: Christine Keeler the survivor

Claudia Clare will give a talk focusing on Christine Keeler the survivor: survivor of poverty and exploitation and her goal of the ordinary, secure life. She will discuss why she made her work for the exhibition – its form (the pilgrim flask) and method (broken and mended). Claudia will also discuss the image of the prostituted woman in figurative art, with a focus on archetypes: the Fallen Woman, the Woman Taken in Adultery, the Magdelene, etc. religious archetypes which often feature in ceramics. Claudia Clare is a ceramicist and writer based in London. Author of Subversive Ceramics (Bloomsbury 2015), she contributes regularly to Ceramic Review. Clare is known for her large-scale, slip-painted, earthenware jars that depict scenes that show the impact of major events on the lives of ordinary people.

Friday 21 June 2-4pm
Sadie Hennessy: Female icons workshop

This workshop is open to anyone over the age of 14 who would like to create a small piece of take-home art celebrating iconic women. After a brief introduction to the medium of collage, Sadie Hennessy will invite participants to make a commemorative plate featuring the great women that the participants have nominated. The plates will be made using a simple decal transfer technique. The style of the plates will be following a long tradition of Royal commemorative ware, but with a very modern twist! There will also be the chance to create paper collage greetings cards. All materials will be provided. When signing up for the workshop, please suggest women that you would like to commemorate. Sadie Hennessy is a collage artist and printmaker. She is currently Screen Print Fellow at the Royal Academy.

Saturday 22 June 2-3.30pm
Helen Billinghurst: Red hunting in Soho

Helen Billinghurst delivers a psychogeographical report, with photographic images, on the three locations in Soho important to the narrative of Keeler’s life and the Profumo Affair. These will include Murray’s Cabaret Club, where Keeler met Stephen Ward; The Flamingo Club (which played an important role in the development of British rhythm and blues and jazz and where a fight broke out between two of Keeler’s lovers which ultimately led to the Profumo revelations) and The Establishment club where Lewis Morley shot the iconic ‘chair’ photograph of Keeler in 1963. The report will deliver an emotive feedback in response to the locations as well as commenting on the lost landscape of 1960s Soho and comparing this with the Soho of today. A Q&A will follow, discussing the report, Helen’s work and psychogeography in general. Helen Billinghurst is a practising interdisciplinary artist. She has recently completed a doctorate in performance, exploring how to combine studio practice with walking in the landscape.

Saturday 29 June 2-3.30pm
Cathy Lomax: Girls on film

Christine Keeler is just one of the many real women who have been depicted on film. All too often, salacious aspects of their lives are foregrounded and this overshadows a rounded portrait of who they are. In this talk, Cathy Lomax will look at how Keeler has been portrayed in the films Scandal (1989) and The Keeler Affair (1963) alongside a broader look at images of women on screen and how this connects with Lomax’s art practice. The talk will be illustrated with film clips. Cathy Lomax is an artist and director of Transition Gallery, London. She is currently researching the female film star image for a PhD in Film Studies at Queen Mary University of London.

Read writer and broadcaster Julie Burchill’s article, Dear Christine, and journalist Ian McKay’s article, The Boy Looked at Christine, in Art North, the contemporary visual arts magazine from Scotland and the far north.

Read writer and artist Mike Golding’s review of Dear Christine in Corridor8, contemporary art and writing in the North of England.

Read journalist David Whetstone’s review of Dear Christine in Only in Newcastle, helping you to discover the best of Newcastle and Gateshead.