Women Making History: An Exhibition

Written by Chloe Lawson

In 2018, tens of thousands of women of all ages and backgrounds took to the streets in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London to mark 100 years since the first UK women were allowed to vote. The event, named PROCESSIONS, was a once in a lifetime mass participation artwork whereby 100 women artists across the globe were commissioned to work with organisations across the UK to create 100 centenary banners.

Three years on, Women Making History presented by public arts company Artichoke, provides an opportunity to reflect on the banners’ calls for equality, to examine the pace of progress and to be inspired to keep pushing for change.

These vibrant and elaborate artworks created by women’s groups across the UK and leading figures in British art and fashion (including Vivienne Westwood, Sarah Maple and Claudette Johnson) speak to the present and the future. Displayed together for the first and only time, visitors will be able to view up close the craftsmanship and collaboration which went into each banner.

This free, ticketed exhibition takes place from 2nd June – 11th July 2021 at London Scottish House in Westminster.

Inspired by the suffrage movement, these banners are a powerful reminder and expression of women’s concerns about gender-based violence, reproductive and economic rights, social exclusion, homophobia and trans allyship.

Collectively they present a rallying cry for change epitomised by the banner created by Welsh collective HEXXX (pictured below). A powerful manifesto to the government written by women who have experienced gender-based violence, it calls on UK members of parliament to “acknowledge the existence of abuse: in public spaces, workplaces, schools, detention centres, within families, behind closed doors and on the streets” and provides a roadmap for meaningful change.

Yellow banner reads

The banners display deeply personal stories of women and their communities. Tara Arts, an award-winning multicultural theatre in London, used recycled saris donated by local women in their banner (pictured below), whilst Macrobert Arts Centre in Scotland incorporated one of their participants’ silk wedding dress in their design.

Many reference women’s integral contribution to local industries through their use of materials – Rowallane Community Hub’s banner is made from a 100-year-old piece of Belfast linen made in factories powered by female workers known as ‘Millies’, whilst the British Ceramics Biennial created hundreds of bone-china clay buttons in tribute to women’s contributions to the Potteries of Stoke on Trent.

Blue human figure with 6 arms against pink and orange background made from recycled saris.

Broadcaster and campaigner June Sarpong, who worked on the BBC broadcast of PROCESSIONS, recalls in the volume that accompanies the exhibition:

“It was a particularly poignant day for me. I remember the magical sight of tens of thousands of women invading central London wearing purple, white and green scarves, many carrying beautiful handmade banners. As I was celebrating this historic milestone in equality, I couldn’t help but consider, in spite of a century passing, the many milestones we have yet to achieve in terms of career opportunities, reproductive choices and safety from exploitation and violence.”

Helen Marriage, Director of Artichoke, says:

“The banners in this exhibition were made and carried by participants in PROCESSIONS. They include calls for an end to male violence against women, an end to domestic abuse, and for reproductive and economic rights. Looking back at that day in 2018, I believe PROCESSIONS still has a unique resonance. For a few hours, women owned the streets. Our creative energy now more than ever needs to be expressed outside the walls of buildings.

We may never duplicate the experience of PROCESSIONS, but we will continue to explore all the possibilities of public art. This exhibition aims to capture and encourage that spirit.”

Featured images courtesy of Artichoke and PROCESSIONS. No changes have been made to the images.

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