Preview: Missing Women @ Bishop Auckland Town Hall / Auckland Castle | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Francisco de Zurbarán’s series of paintings, Jacob and His Twelve Sons has hung in Auckland Castle for more than 250 years. A lot is known about those portrayed in this biblical painting, however not so much is known about the women who lived with them.

The stories of these five ‘missing women’ has inspired an ambitious six-month project which has brought together artists from the Bishop Auckland area. Jilly Johnston, Lady Kitt, Leanne Pearce, Lizzie Lovejoy and Edwina Kung have been commissioned to paint a life-size portrait of one of the women: Leah and Rachel (sisters to each other, cousins to Jacob as well as being his wives); Zilpah and Bilhah (potentially half sisters to Leah and Rachel, their servants and Jacob’s concubines); and Dinah (the daughter of Leah and Jacob), which will culminate in a series of four engaging exhibitions, which will open across Bishop Auckland from International Women’s Day (Wednesday 8th March).

The exhibition will be split between Bishop Auckland Town Hall (Wednesday 8th March to Saturday 13th May) and Auckland Castle (Wednesday 8th March to 28th May). The artist’s self-portraits will be displayed alongside the portraits of Dinah, Zilpah, Bilhah, Leah and Rachel in Bishop Auckland Town Hall. They will also curate and organise a wider exhibition about the Missing Women project itself, which will be displayed in No.42.

Jilly, who is painting Leah, said: It was great doing the live painting of Leah for the Missing Women Project. I enjoyed working with the young people from Ashgreen Way who gave me lots of inspiration. We discussed the clothes Leah might have worn, her stature and her personality, all of which influenced the final composition of the painting.

“It’s a privilege to paint a ‘matriarch’ of the Old Testament and literally paint her back into the history of the Zurbarán series, in the Castle and into a story where she belongs. 

“We hope that this will make visitors think about other people who do amazing things, have a story to tell and get ‘written out’ of history like Leah. I’m going to enjoy seeing her framed and placed into Auckland Castle for International Women’s Day.”

Kate Gorman, Creative Producer of Missing Women, said: “It has been hugely rewarding to see the engagement of the young people with the project and to hear what they have to say – and to provide a platform for them to be able to say this loud and clear. 

“Their creativity and insight has been phenomenal throughout the project.”

Missing Women is a collaborative project led by Creative Youth Opportunities, The Auckland Project and Bishop Auckland Town Hall. It has been funded by Arts Council England, County Durham Community Foundation and Art Fund.

Michelle Harland, Managing Director, Creative Youth Opportunities, said: “Missing Women has been a wonderful opportunity for us to work with young people with a breadth of life experiences and use art as a tool for them to develop new knowledge and skills and for their self-awareness and confidence to flourish.”

To find out more about the exhibition, visit the Auckland Project website.

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