Turning the Tide: The narrative of Green Energy

By Aruni Samarakoon, PhD candidate in Political Science, University of Hull.

Figure 1- Picture taken by Aruni Samarakoon at the exhibition of Turning the Tide at the University of Hull’s Brynmor Jones Library, 2023

The global community commemorated an important occasion on the 25th of November: the United Nations’ Elimination of Violence against Women. This day holds particular significance as it coincides with numerous women and children striving to preserve their lives amidst conflict-ridden regions such as Gaza (Mughrabi and Masoud, 2023), South Sudan, Gujarat in India, and various other areas grappling with instability.

While the UN commemorated November 25th in relation to the elimination of violence, a significant event took place at the University of Hull – the exhibition called “Turning the Tide.” This exhibition showcased a pivotal moment in the history of women’s rights discourse, specifically the Women’s Movement (the suffragette movement in 1918, which granted voting rights to women over the age of 30).

This historical event marked the creation of a political space for women to be represented in governance, making them visible in political institutions and policies. It had a lasting impact on women’s political voice, influencing the labour rights of women in emerging industries at that time. Forwarding feminist discourse from history to contemporary times involves exploring various dimensions, including anti-violence efforts, ending inequalities, and empowering women. The current feminist discourse is trending toward aligning with emerging industries, such as ‘Green energy,’ as shared in the “Turning the Tide” exhibition.

“Turning the Tide” represents one of the dimensions of the women’s political movement, with the aim of asserting the presence of women in the industry and making them visible in the workforce. Its objective is to “highlight the important and often unnoticed roles that women play in the workplace today” (Turning the Tide) The question posed in feminist scholarship is: why have women often gone unnoticed? This blog article seeks to answer this question from the perspective of a feminist scholar at the University of Hull.

“Turning the Tide” was an exhibition hosted at the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull from September 9th to October 20th, 2023. Its primary objective is to reflect on the history of the women’s movement and set a forward trajectory for women to have choices in their careers, particularly in the emerging industry of renewable energy in Humber. The exhibition encourages women to pursue their passions in arts and other aspirations as they grow.

The exhibition captured the essence of dedicated female scholars and individuals from various sectors, including entrepreneurship and homemaking, representing a diverse range of ages and educational backgrounds. It was a participative and collective project that reflects the collective consciousness of women to pursue their aspirations and passions, which have often been limited by patriarchal structures or other reasons.

These women were donned in flowing white dresses, briskly moving from one corner to another, tirelessly working day and night to combat the drawing attention to the potential opportunities right on the shores of the Humber which the offshore wind industry presents for women to work for solutions to the challenges from Climate Change. These women presented narratives that had previously gone unheard, defining not only the overarching theme of the exhibition but also shedding light on their individual passions and the choices that have shaped their lives.

The narrative of one of the dancers chronicles the poignant journey of a young girl whose dream of becoming a ballerina ultimately transformed into a pursuit within the realm of science academia. This shift led her towards exploring solutions to the burgeoning environmental crisis, now an integral facet of our daily lives, rendering people—especially women—increasingly vulnerable.

“I was one of those little girls who imagined herself as a ballerina- I took the classes, had the tutu, did the Royal Ballet exams, read all the books until my late teens- but then I grew too tall and I did not have the right shaped feet to dance professionally. But I always loved dance- now I am in my late 50s (I can hardly believe that) I thought that my lot was to watch others dance, to be in the audience”

– Louise Smith, Director – Aura Innovation Centre (Garland, 2023)

Applying critical feminist epistemology to Louise’s narrative I argue that the strict interpretations establishing body standards and the requirement to become professional dancers have imposed strict rules and regulations on individuals. These rules may have originated from specific knowledge holders, who have power to set up the rules. Louise, however, found herself in business, inspiring many other young women to join the field of renewable energy. Nevertheless, my critical feminist inquiry raises the question: what happens to women who have limited opportunities for multiple choices and limited resources to identify their skills and shape them to become who they want to be?

This inquiry connects with the intersectional feminist discourse of class, race, and gender, which explores the origin and power behind the ‘strict rules’ in various professional settings. This is where my feminist epistemology connects to understand the “Turning the Tide” exhibition.

Analysing the narratives of Louise and other participants in the project, along with their expressive body language that includes gestures of freedom, shining eyes, and optimistic language regarding hopes and a better future, reveals a manifestation of women’s power to resist and overcome challenges imposed on them due to their gender, age, body shape, and educational backgrounds. The freely moving hands and the scenery of standing on the Church roof can be considered symbolic representations of women’s ability to explore and assert their choices, extending beyond traditional narratives of positive thinking.

After delving into the narratives of the women in the project, it suggests that they have embraced the power to resist for their freedom of choice, akin to what women did in the suffragette movement a hundred years ago.

In the construction of History (or “His + Story”), the discourse often neglects the examination of structural challenges against women’s bodies and the formation of their consciousness in shaping their identity. In the context of aspiring to become a ballerina, a prerequisite is the conformity of one’s feet to a certain standard. A critical inquiry arises: “Who determines the criteria for fitting in, and what power perpetuates the stereotypes dictating the acceptable shape of feet?” This question is pivotal as it intertwines with the broader discussion on the elimination of violence against women. Stereotypes, as discussed, generate forms of violence against women, restricting their choices in life and violating their rights to equal representation. The scrutiny of such seemingly mundane standards reveals underlying power structures that can perpetuate inequality and contribute to the structural violence faced by women in various aspects of their lives.

Violence manifests in various forms—verbal, physical, psychological, and symbolic—ultimately encroaching upon the freedom and liberty of individuals and fostering inequality and vulnerability. Throughout history, women have been subjected to such violence, often reduced to the status of a ‘sexual object’ rather than being recognized as fully human. This objectification extends beyond the physical realm, permeating into women’s representation, intellectual capacities, and leadership roles.

Many young dancers with aspirations of becoming professional mirrors the broader issue of women facing objectification. Having unfit feet for a ballerina, can be a representation in the field of dance of objectification. This parallels the historical struggle reflected in the Women’s Suffragette movement highlighted through the “Turning the Tide” exhibition, which will commemorate 100 years in 2028. Both instances underscore the pervasive nature of objectification and the need for collective efforts to challenge and overcome such systemic barriers.

The Women’s Suffragette movement in the United Kingdom was a pivotal initiative aimed at securing political space and representation for women, specifically advocating for their right to vote. Initially dominated by the elite class, the movement progressively broadened its scope to include working-class women. As the movement evolved, it played a crucial role in politically mobilizing women across class boundaries, bringing them into the public sphere and articulating demands for reforms that would acknowledge their presence and rights in both economic and political realms. The movement, therefore, transcended its initial elite origins to become a more inclusive and impactful force for women’s rights and representation.

Reflecting on history, the narratives within “Turning the Tide” underscore the pervasive issue of stereotyping women’s bodies, which can be aptly defined as a form of violence. The women scholars and supportive staff associated with the exhibition are actively engaged in efforts to mitigate the impact of a non-green economy on human lives.

It is crucial to note that the contemporary discourse surrounding green economics remains a partially ideological reflection, as it has yet to fully integrate women’s perspectives. This is especially relevant for women in the global south, who possess distinct knowledge and experiences related to the climate change crisis and its resolution. The representation of Louise’s and other women’s stories in the “Turning the Tide” exhibition serves as a poignant reminder that women contribute significantly to challenging the masculinist paradigm inherent in the green economy, moving toward a more inclusive human paradigm. Their efforts can be further enhanced by incorporating the voices and experiences of women from the global south.

In conclusion, “Turning the Tide” serves as a reflective movement, akin to a mirror that succinctly encapsulates the history of women—depicting their struggles against many challenges and their subsequent triumphs, leading to the emergence of women as scholars with significant contributions. This article aims to view this movement through a different lens, aligning its narratives with the contemporary situation of women. By doing so, it seeks to illuminate the ongoing relevance of these historical struggles and achievements in shaping the present landscape for women, providing insights into their continued journey towards empowerment and recognition.


Garland, F. (2023) Turning the Tide [Photograph]. Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull.

Mughrabi, N., Masoud, B. (2023) UN Calls for Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza, Biden Warns Israel is losing Support. Reuters, Internet edition. 13 December Available online, , UN calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza, Biden warns Israel is losing support | Reuters [Accessed 13/12/2023].

University of Hull- Research and Enterprise (2022) Turning The Tide  [Youtube]. Available online : [Accessed 20/12/2023].

The views or opinions expressed by individuals in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Library and the University.

You can find more information about upcoming exhibitions on our Exhibition Space webpage.

University history

The journey of the Library Exhibition space during Hull City of Culture 2017

Prior to 2017, the Library exhibition space was originally used in a more corporate fashion; university events, networking events and lunch gatherings were popular within the Academic and University community. It hosted a lectern and chairs most of the time – very formal and most of the time pretty empty.

In order to prepare for the exhibitions to come we needed to meet a higher level of security requirements. The space had additional security installed over its windows and doors to ensure it became a secure space and the lectern unofficially retired to the back closet.

In January 2017 we hosted Lines of Thought from the British Museum, drawings from Michelangelo to now.

Lines of Thought promotional material.

It drew the largest crowd we had ever seen! Everyone wanted to be part of the buzz of City of Culture and we excitedly scanned tickets and ordered some barriers to manage the queues which were rapidly forming.

Lines of thought exhibition.

There were also workshops to engage students in drawing their own pieces, coordinated by Heidi Wigmore.

The end of February saw the end of Lines of Thought. The newly erected walls in the center of the room were pulled down and the decorators intensively patched and repainted the space to its former glory. The floor underwent an intensive clean – after so many visitors (approx. 20,000) it hosted track marks where people had walked through the space – like an unofficial directional route.

The exhibition was a huge success for the Library. The first we had supported from an operational perspective, helping host invigilators, Art History student volunteers, City of Culture volunteers, manage ticket sales and queues. It was eye opening to what the space now was and could continue to be for the future of our cultural program.

Following lines of thought we hosted Paul Smith to J.K. Rowling: BP Portrait Award commissions from the National Portrait Gallery, 29th March to 11th June 2017. The works were all commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery as part of the first prize of the BP Portrait Award.

Paul Smith by James Lloyd, Sir Ian McKellen by Clive Smith, J.K Rowling by Stuart Pearson Wright.

We were all stunned by the realism of these paintings, they were truly real to life and showed so much expression. Having Sir Ian McKellen stare directly back at you was an experience. The paintings themselves were absolutely huge too, a juxtaposition of the Michelangelo we had previously exhibited.

Visitors taking in the National Portrait Gallery exhibits.

It was sad to see the exhibition move out in June. Despite the luxury of being able to visit the space often, there was always something new which had you captured each time. It was one of my favorites to walk through.

Our next exhibition, Phillip Larkin: New Eyes Each Year was our first immersive experience curated by Anna Farthing from 12th July – Oct 2017. Book shelves wound around the space showcasing artifacts from Larkin alongside his doodles.

Philip Larkin: New Eyes Each Year exhibit.
Larkin’s ties hung from the ceiling and a lawnmower from the wall.

Yes, that is right ties from the ceiling and a lawnmower on the wall. There was many a health and safety conversation about that one! The space was full to the brim with Larkin’s personal possessions – he was certainly a collector. Larkin was the University Librarian at the University of Hull from 1955-1985 and so this one felt close to home for us. It was a rare opportunity to see the man behind the poetry and we offered tours of his library office and showcased his works kept at the Hull History Centre archives alongside. Visitors commented how the whole experience felt very ‘Library’, the atmosphere which was created encouraged people to sit and spend time within the space – you often saw someone perched on the bench just taking some time.

During de-installation, the Library, Hull History Centre and the Larkin Society got to keep many of the artifacts for safe keeping. Larkin’s doodle from this exhibition found a much loved home in the Reading Room next to the Spotlight display.

The 20th October to 26th November 2017 saw us host An Eyeful of Wry, works from the UK Government Art Collection. It was very much centered around humor and it certainly raised a smile within the Library.

Part of An Eyeful of Wry exhibition.

Students absolutely loved this exhibition! I think mainly because each day we placed a set of joke posters in the space and the students focused on collecting them all to decorate their dorm rooms.

Student volunteers helping roll a joke poster for visiting guests.
The musical piano.

The musical piano resembling something from the In the Night Garden’s Ninky Nonk played a tune triggered by the push of a big red button. It was loved by some, hated by others – most Library staff being the latter as you often left work humming along to the tune.

We rounded our City of Culture year with Painting Power: The Art of Terence Cuneo from the Science Museum Group, curator Ian Blatchford and National Railway Museum’s curator Andrew McLean – December through to April 2018. It featured railway paintings, industrial power alongside sovereign and state. It intrigued many that Cuneo painted a mouse into his works and lead to a spot the most mice competition for anyone working within the space. His works were so detailed it often took some time or multiple attempts to find them.

Giants refreshed: Pacific’s in the Doncaster Locomotive works
Visitors enjoying the Cuneo exhibit.

In wrapping up our City of Culture exhibits we had played host to hundreds of volunteers who had all dedicated time to the Library to ensure our loaned collections were safe and to engage with our visitors. They all helped shape our experience within this cultural programme and we wanted to make sure we gave them something back. We hosted a volunteer event up on the 7th floor to celebrate our year and to plan for our future in hosting further exhibitions at the Library.

Group photo of the City of Culture volunteers.
A feedback board – they wrote their thoughts on the washing line of people.
Props for some fun activities during the event.

The Library has continued to host exhibits within its spaces collaborating with the Science Festival, the University Spaces of Sanctuary group, individual curators such as DJ Roberts with another exciting nod to Larkin. Most recently we have hosted Peter Huby, Hull and Back and continue to build an exciting program into 2023 and beyond.

The current Art collection, any visiting exhibitions and opening times can all be found advertised through the Library webpage.