The Unfinished Quilt “Votes for Women”
An image gallery for this work can be seen here
It didn’t take long after starting my investigation into the subject of ‘Votes for Women’ for me to notice something, how often people get excluded on small details despite being fundamentally the same as everyone else
When it came to deciding who can vote and
who cannot, different countries found a whole host of ways even in the 20th and 21st centuries, to limit who had a say in how their nation should be run. Property ownership, wealth, marital status, colour, age and level of education have all been used as criteria to exclude potential voters and in many countries including the UK, (Who still limit voting rights for incarcerated prisoners today) many of these criteria continued to be applied to women and not men even after partial female suffrage bills were passed.
It also struck me how something as simple and obvious as recognising that all genders are equal in status could be complicated and fractured by different and unrelated political issues. How the efforts to correct the injustice of gender discrimination could be distorted or distracted from altogether by an issue considered more important. I find it hard to accept that in the event of a national crisis such as a World War for example, that leaving half of a country’s population disenfranchised is thought to be an insignificant detail that we’ll come back to later on.
I recognised the compromises that are often made in politics, weighing one issue off against another for the ‘Greater Good’. I understood the desperate measures taken by suffragettes at the beginning of the 20th century when bill after bill was sent to the bottom of the parliament pile in favour of more ‘pressing issues’. I understand how the women compromised their own principles both politically and personally in order to gain even the slightest ground in their fight. I realise more than ever that one woman’s terrorist is another woman’s freedom fighter and there is nothing like an elegant woman in a big hat arrested and imprisoned for setting fire to a building that brings that fact into sharp focus.
Lucy Worsley in her recent BBC documentary was unafraid to use
the word ‘radicalised’ when referring to suffragettes who had become hardened, determined and relentless when locked up for 23 hours a day with women just like them. How there is power and strength in numbers but also the potential for people consumed with a single aim to become desensitised to other issues such as law, safety and morals and even begin to turn on each other. Indeed, there are several instances of mass expulsion of members from the WSPU owing to differences of opinion within the cause and many other organisations being founded as a result. Bonds were forged and broken and the long fight took its toll on many.
To mark the centenary of the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918 Mary Branson’s light installation in the Houses of Parliament , ‘New Dawn’, brings together the colours of all of the suffrage organisations that campaigned to get Votes for Women in the UK over 100 years ago. I felt drawn to the idea of all women coming together in a common cause despite their differences and extended it worldwide, researching and comparing dates and circumstances of women’s suffrage and the organisations that fought for it. In 2015, the women of Saudi Arabia were finally granted the vote and this made it clear to me that if I was to examine the theme of ‘ALL WOMEN’ in my work then I must come right up to the present day and beyond.
Votes for Women does not just mean
women voting, for me it means voting
FOR women, for women’s issues, women’s rights, for female representation in the male dominated seats of power. It means women having a say in what happens to our own bodies, what we may do for a living, how much we can learn and earn, what we can wear, if we can have the final say on how we are touched or spoken to. It means challenging international abuses of women and girls, ending forced marriage, fgm, period poverty and shame. Votes for Women means creating a world where a man admitting sexual assault on women gets him arrested and not elected president of the USA.
Voting is not always done with the ballot box, we vote with our feet, with banners, with social media, with our money, with petitions, with marching and shouting, with signs of solidarity, with colours and pussy hats, with hashtags, with writing and art work.
The idea for the construction of The Unfinished Quilt was threefold.
Patchwork represents to me a thing that becomes greater than the sum of its diverse parts. Tiny and seemingly insignificant scraps become a cohesive, strong and beautiful thing when they are joined together in equal and tessellating pieces.
Images, slogans and press coverage are a vital part of any campaign and print has given way to screen in the digital age. It seemed important to me from the start to leave many of the papers in my patchwork in place, visible and honoured. I chose images from various eras highlighting the gender discrimination and the fight against it at that time.
The idea of a scroll representing a timeline of women’s rights happened automatically onceI realised that I must indicate how long and complex the struggle is. A long and ‘Unfinished’ work would be the only way I felt I could show this ongoing fight. A 1950s spool from a Halifax Mill seemed the perfect thing to carry the work.
The Unfinished Quilt will be going first to Riccall without me this Saturday to be displayed as part of the Yorkshire and Humber Region of The Embroider’s Guild Challenge Cup 2018. The prompt ‘Votes for Women’ was what set me off on this epic journey in the first place. I will be at Design@Heart with my more modestly sized pieces and will be waiting for news on how the work has been received.
“Struggle continues. We still have a lot to do.” Linda Matar, 90, Lebanon.