Women, like craft, are often portrayed as pleasant and placid. This exhibition celebrates protest and outrage, stitched into fabric and fired in the kiln. The suffragettes created a visual language of resistance through posters, pamphlets, banners, sashes, handkerchief-petitions and ceramic tableware. Many seemingly domestic objects became weapons of dissent and symbols for a societal revolution. On the 100-year anniversary of partial women’s suffrage in the UK, this exhibition of collaborative work draws upon the material histories of dis-obedient craft.

Alongside the aesthetics of protest the exhibition also responds to the history of anti-suffrage propaganda. These include the use of animalistic imagery that has long been a method employed to oppress and degrade marginalised groups as lesser, other and sub- or non-human. Here specifically, the works reference anti-suffrage postcards depicting women as cats, mewing for an undeserved vote. This lasting association between felines and femininity stretches from the ancient Egyptian cat-headed goddess, Bastet, to the witch’s familiars of the Middle Ages. This relationship remains in the popular imagination through the stereotype of the ‘crazy cat lady’: the single woman living solely in the company of cats. She is indecent; a figure of failure, or refusal. In the 21st century the cat has become a symbol of female empowerment through contemporary protest aesthetics, for example, the ‘Pussyhats’ abundant at recent women’s marches. These works re-claim an old insult and honour an ancient alliance between women and cats.

Fleming’s ceramic and copper work, We’re going on a march, references her wider practice; bringing together the suffrage reclamation of the prison arrow alongside the contemporary symbol of feminist pleasure and empowerment – the clitoris. Through craft techniques the work celebrates a radical past, acknowledges the continuing struggle for equal rights, and makes a hopeful gesture toward a feminist future.

Ford’s work is informed by the little-told story of Vera ‘Jack’ Holme: a suffragette, actress, chauffeuse to leading members of the British suffragette movement, the Pankhursts, ambulance driver, prisoner of war and aid worker. During the suffrage period she began a relationship with Evelina Haverfield. They set up a home together, joined the Scottish Women’s Hospital Unit and delivered aid in Serbia. After Eve’s death in 1921, an inventory of their home records a wooden bed with their initials carved on the end (and the tools to carve it with). Through the crafting of queer domestic space, these works insist on the importance of lesbian relationships, alliances and narratives within the Suffrage movements.

Juliet Fleming was born in London in 1991 and lives in Newcastle upon Tyne. She received BA Hons Fine Art from Newcastle University in 2015 and a Post Graduate diploma from Northumbria University in 2018. Recent exhibitions include ‘hubbub’, GOLDTAPPED, Middlesbrough Art Weekender, Middlesbrough, ‘Close to you’, TESTT Space, Durham (2018), ‘Aftertaste’, The Trophy Room, Liverpool, ‘is this it?: I miss you, Blockbuster...’, A217 Gallery, London (2017), and ‘Worried Mother’, M I L K x Workplace takeover, Workplace Gallery, Gateshead (2016). Fleming is the Director of GOLDTAPPED, Newcastle upon Tyne, an artist-led initiative providing space for experimentation, development and support emerging artist practices.

Sarah-Joy Ford was born in Cheshire in 1993 and lives in Manchester. She studied at The University of Leeds, The Hungarian University of Fine Art, Budapest, Hungary, and Manchester School of Art. Recent exhibitions include ‘Queen’, COLLAR Gallery, Manchester, ‘Processions’, Artichoke, London (2018), ‘Weaving Europe: The World as Mediation’, Shelley Residence, Paphos, Cyprus, ‘SuperYonic’, Copeland Gallery, London (2017), and ‘Wish You Were Here’, Stryx, Birmingham (2016). Curatorial projects include ‘Cut Cloth: Contemporary Textiles and Feminism’, The Portico Library, Manchester (2017) and ‘The Guild: Contemporary Textiles’, Temple Works, Leeds (2016). She is artist in residence for Strange Perfume, Chetham’s Library, Manchester (2018). Ford is the recipient of Doctoral Training Partnership Award for her PhD research examining quilting as a methodology for re-visioning British lesbian archives. She is co-director of SEIZE Projects, Leeds, and the Queer Research Network Manchester.


Archive screening: There is Power in the Material
Thursday 6 December 6-8pm

There is Power in the Material is a screening of feminist film and video from the Cinenova collection. The moving image works explore the politics of domestic spaces and highlight the use of craft media within feminist and queer protest movements.

Keep your laws off my body, Catherine Gund & Zoe Leonard, USA, 1990, 12mins
Intimate scenes of gentle sexuality and domesticity set to the mechanical cadence of a projector (evoking a feeling somewhere between the repetitive labour of a sewing machine and violence of a machine gun) are juxtaposed with images of police and sirens to highlight the alarming intrusion of America’s laws on queer people and women’s bodies in healthcare, sexual expression, and desire.

Home Movie, Jan Oxenberg, USA, 1972, 10mins

Home Movie intercuts old home movie images – of a small girl dancing and later playing with a doll and still later performing as a cheerleader at a football game – with footage of a gay rights march and women playing tackle football.

17 Rooms (Or What Do Lesbians Do in Bed?), Caroline Sheldon, UK, 1985, 10mins

What do lesbians do in bed?: with a star-studded soundtrack, we’re shown women doing everything in bed from knitting and drinking tea to having raucous pillow-fights.

Video 28, Vera Productions, UK, 1988, 20mins

A celebration and a record of some of the many fight back events against Section 28 of the Local Government Act. A focus for campaigning and an inspiration to action.

Cinenova is a volunteer-run charity preserving and distributing the work of feminist film and video makers. Cinenova was founded in 1991 following the merger of two feminist film and video distributors, Circles, and Cinema of Women, both founded in 1979. Cinenova currently distributes over 300 titles that include artists’ moving image, experimental film, narrative feature films, documentary and educational videos, from the 1920s to the late 1990s.

Talk: Helen Antrobus: Activism on our sleeves: radical women and dress
Saturday 15 December 2-4pm

In this centenary year of the Representation of People Act 1918, which allowed (only some) women over the age of thirty to vote in the UK for the first time, protest and civil disobedience have become more important than ever. From the Women’s March in Washington, USA, in 2017, to the People’s Vote march in London in October 2018, the fight for women’s voices to be heard reflects similar struggles of 100 years ago. The formidable women of the suffrage movement – from the law abiding suffragists to the militant suffragettes – truly demonstrated how to get organised, including being amongst the first political groups to inject symbolic colours and patterns into their dress as a way to proudly display their cause. Join historian Helen Antrobus as she brings the stories of radical women’s protest from 1819 to 2018 to life.

Helen Antrobus is a curator and historian, specialising in the history of radical and political women, particularly in the women’s suffrage movement. She is a regular contributor to programmes made for BBC television and radio.