Washing, Dancing, Singing

This exhibition focused on women’s experiences in prisons and was inspired by a collection of photographs of female prisoners in the Museum’s collection. These poignant images captivated us from the moment they were carefully unwrapped in the museum store. As the tissue paper fell, we noticed solidarity, togetherness, and moments of joy within the bleak context.

The photographs were taken in several UK prisons from 140 years ago to the 1980’s. They arrived in the museum collection with little background information and we wondered how these emotive pictures could be shared when we knew so little about them. The absence of information offered us both a freedom and a challenge. Why were the photographs taken, who took them, what are the stories of the women pictured?

We shared the images widely and the insights and observations offered have informed the interpretive approach. Here we present simple lists and facts around rehabilitation, routine, and recreation along with statements about women experiencing prison today.

This exhibition is the start of a journey to represent multiple perspectives within our research around these extraordinary photographs. After exploring our virtual exhibition, we invite you to consider your privilege, your freedom, and the skills that you might share to enhance someone’s life.


Explore the Virtual Exhibition