Tamsyn Challenger

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Tamsyn Challenger
Tamsyn Challenger

Penzance, Cornwall, England
EducationUniversity for the Creative Arts
Known forContemporary art
Notable work
400 Women
The Tamsynettes
WebsiteTamsyn Challenger official website

Tamsyn Challenger is an English conceptual, political and installation artist based in London and Cornwall. She is known for her acclaimed gender-political work '400 Women' which took five years to create and comprises a critical mass of portraits by nearly 200 artists including Maggi Hambling, Paula Rego, Zoe Laughlin and Rachel Howard.

Life and career[edit]

Challenger was born in Penzance and studied at Winchester School of Art and at the University for the Creative Arts (formerly Kent Institute of Art and Design) where she has subsequently been a visiting lecturer. Her sister is the poet and writer Melanie Challenger.


400 Women[edit]

Politically concerned with gender violence, the idea for 400 Women began for Challenger when she visited Mexico in 2006 and is focused on the murdered and missing women of Juarez (see Female homicides in Ciudad Juarez). Crucially, Challenger's aim was to re-personalise the individual from a statistic by bringing together diverse sects of the art world to address issues of mortality and the capacity of art to imagine the dead, violence and trauma.

On its première in Nov 2010 at the Shoreditch Town Hall Basement space, London, the project became one of The Guardian newspaper's top five exhibitions of the month and Tamsyn was interviewed for Radio 4,[1] the World Service and BBC2's The Review Show. She was supported by the Arts Council, Amnesty International and by the Zabludowicz collection. The site-specific installation was subsequently selected as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival 2011[2] where again it received high critical acclaim, 5* reviews and Challenger was coined as an “artist agitator” by The Scotsman.[3] 400 Women continues to tour internationally and was last in the Netherlands where it was shown in a disused factory space in May 2012.

"Stalin said, 'one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic'. And what she's trying to do is retrieve the individual tragedies from the statistic. And to feel like you're being watched by these women ... It's so good at locating both the individual and the wider picture." – Johann Hari BBC2 The Review Show[4] 2010

"A few more shows of the calibre of Tamsyn Challenger's tribute to the victims of Mexico's drugs war would have given this year's Edinburgh Art Festival a much-needed sense of global urgency and energy....400 Women...is like a bullet to the brain"[5]

The Tamsynettes[edit]

Her first solo show The Tamsynettes was at Transition Gallery run by Cathy Lomax in Bethnal Green in March 2010. This is an ongoing work looking at stylised layers of beauty through mapping her corporeal deterioration over the course of her lifetime. The Tamsynettes yr 2 was shown as part of the Beaconsfield (Vauxhall, London) show 'Fraternise-the Salon' in May 2011, showing alongside Tracey Emin, Franko B, Damien Hirst, Mark Wallinger and Sarah Lucas amongst others.

"Fortunately, the contemporary obsession with skin-deep beauty infuriates some of us. Tamsyn Challenger is one of these people. Having born witness to the violent side of this fear-driven ideology of modern beauty, Challenger's sculptures and installations starkly reflect these experiences and are therefore intensely visceral, making us immediately aware of our mortality and the futility of attempting to hide one's true age behind a mask that is plain to see is merely a mask. Challenger aims to be the most post-modern woman she knows, and to inspire others to reject the doctrine of beauty as espoused by modern popular culture."[6]


Challenger was in residence at Beaconsfield BAW (Vauxhall, London) under the curatorial direction of David Crawforth and Naomi Siderfin, from June 2012 – February 2013, where she began exploring cultural homogeneity and the 'selfie' portrait through her project Monoculture. As part of this work she constructed a large scale installation that comprised a polytunnel concealed within the gallery's (site-specific) arch tunnel space, where she grew her own 'cash' crop of oil seed rape with nothing but artificial light and warmth. In Feb 2013 the Monoculture show was premiered and consisted of new large scale sculptural works that explore the relationship between social media, sexuality and self-representation. The work was recommended by the Contemporary Art Society in April 2013. This work was supported by the Arts Council.

Monoculture has most recently been shown at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival 2014, where it has been described by the New Scientist as "mesmerising and horrifying in equal measure".[7]

"As Monoculture suggests, art itself has long been part of the process through which each age figures its ideal of beauty, and yet it is also through art – the proliferation of constructions, linkages, meanings, interpretations – that this narrow privileging can be both highlighted and undercut. There's always a kind of violence in the construction of identity, a violence that often involves art. But the horror of monoculture is that what is lost in the construction of a uniform ideal – bees, diversity, agency, dissent – are perhaps the very things that make such an ideal possible in the first place. Such violent sadness is what Challenger does so well to bring out.[8]

"Brill" Mary Beard (classicist) commenting on 'The Love-Byte' via Twitter.

Pussy Riot[edit]

In 2012 Challenger was asked to contribute to a new protest book in conjunction with Pussy Riot that is published by Rough Trade Records. It was launched at Yoko Ono's 'Meltdown' festival at the South Bank Centre in 2013. Tamsyn is one of several contributors including Yoko Ono, Judy Chicago, Carolee Schneemann and several rock and punk musicians. Challenger is the only artist that produced a new sculptural work for the book which consists of a highly coloured fully operational ducking stool, shown for the first time as part of Monoculture.


Challenger has exhibited at the Truman's Brewery for MIND and Candid Arts in London and with the Magdalena Festival in Barcelona. She has also produced documentary work for the BBC, 'My Male Muse' with poet Clare Pollard being chosen for Radio 4's 'Pick of the Year'. In 2011 she was asked by Jude Kelly to talk about her conceptual practice and 400 Women for the Southbank Centre's WOW Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.


  • 2010 Tamsynettes – Transition Gallery, London
  • 2010 400 Women – Shoreditch Town Hall Basement, London
  • 2011 'Fraternise-the Salon' – Beaconsfield Art, London
  • 2011 400 Women – Edinburgh Art Festival, Canongate Venture, Edinburgh
  • 2012 400 Women – Sugarcity Factory Space, Halfweg, the Netherlands
  • 2013 Monoculture – Beaconfield Art


  1. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00c1mpz
  2. ^ http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/article/35350-edinburgh-art-festival-2011-highlights/
  3. ^ http://www.tamsynchallenger.co.uk/data/uploads/press/Press%20Cutting,%20The%20Scotsman,%2026%20May%20-%201.jpg[full citation needed]
  4. ^ Hari, Johann (December 2010). "400 Women – the Review Show". BBC 4 Review Show. BBC. BBC. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  5. ^ http://www.edinburgh-festivals.com/viewreview.aspx?id=2980 Moira Jeffrey, Scotland on Sunday 2011[full citation needed]
  6. ^ http://www.list.co.uk/event/20022281-tamsyn-challenger-the-tamsynettes/ The List – March 2010
  7. ^ Austen, Kat (11 August 2014). "Sea of selfies – social media's monoculture threat". www.newscientist.com. New Scientist. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
  8. ^ http://www.wildculture.com/article/monoculture-tamsyn-challenger-beaconsfield/1093 The Journal of Wild Culture – Feb 2013

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]