www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk     Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

levetleigh house after the suffragette arson attack

Introducing the riart Grrrls: Hastings and
St Leonards’ brand new feminist artists’ collective

Hastings & St Leonards has long had a history of feminism: brave, inspirational women committed to improving the lives of women in this town and beyond. It is also a hotbed of creativity: anyone who knows the impossibility of walking 100 yards in this town without bumping into an artist, many of whom are female, will agree with this. Ripe territory then for riart Grrrls: Hastings & St. Leonards’ first ever feminist artists’ collective. Xaverine Bates tells us how it is…

Mary Richardson suffragette“I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let everyone remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs Pankhurst and other beautiful living women, and that until the public cease to countenance human destruction the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are each an evidence against them of artistic as well as moral and political humbug and hypocrisy.” Mary Richardson

Painting of Venus slashed by Mary Richardson

Painting of Venus slashed by Mary Richardson

These were the words of Mary ‘Slasher’ Richardson, infamous for slashing the Rokeby Venus in London’s National Gallery, who retired to Hastings until she died here in 1961. Her words still ring true today, in a world where women are castigated across the world for expressing their ideologies creatively – just look at Pussy Riot, jailed for two years in a Russian gulag for singing a punk prayer. As local historian Helena Wojtczak has documented in her book, Notable Sussex Women, local women have been involved in the struggle to improve women’s lives since the 19th century. From Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon and Bessie Rayner Parkes, fighting to obtain the parliamentary vote for women in the 1860s; to the early suffrage societies holding rallies in Hastings and St Leonards in the early 20th century, often resorting to militancy to have their demands heard, such as the arson attack by Kitty Marion at the empty Levetleigh building on Dane Road: local women have been struggling to improve their lot for an awfully long time.

Having lived in Hastings & St. Leonards for more than 10 years, working as an artist and a teacher, and despite being part of the artistic community here, I’d started to feel an urge to belong to something bigger. I looked at religion, considered revisiting my Catholic past, tried Zen meditation and so on. But the deeper I looked into each philosophy, the more I realised that women are, more often than not, subjugated, inferior, even abused in the name of religion. Not a friendly place to be female: certainly not something I’d want for my daughter, and least of all for myself. So what could I belong to that wasn’t ideologically male-dominated and patriarchal? I looked at atheism. I turned to politics. I subscribed to feminist blogs. And suddenly it clicked. I already belong to one of the most significant human groups in the world: 51% of the human race: women. With the town’s history of suffragette activism and a hotbed for artistic talent, it seemed just the place to start up a feminist artists’ collective.

riart Grrrl logoAnd so riart Grrrls was born: for those creative women working across genres, who identify with the struggle to be seen and heard artistically, who at best feel underrepresented, supressed, or at worst completely unable to express their true creativity due to the multitudinous pressures that bear upon us: childcare, work, housework and all that malarkey. Those who feel utter rage daily concerning the marginalisation of women across the globe and want to express this through writing, visual arts, music and film. Despite huge advances for women since the Suffragettes and Women’s Lib in the 1970s; even in 2012, we still feel we have to fight to be heard. High profile feminists are being persecuted for their beliefs: two members of Pussy Riot are in gulags, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban, the GOP is waging its war on women’s reproductive rights. And so the list goes on.

So we got together and came up with some exciting plans. We are currently discussing ideas for an event for International Women’s Day next year, which could include a feminist art exhibition and installation, performance art, gigs etc. There could also be something for the kids e.g. a subversive puppet show: Judy’s Revenge perhaps (á la Punch), as well as art workshops etc. All subversive, witty, quirky and fun – watch this space for more developments.

I then approached Dawn Dublin of St Leonards Film Society to suggest the idea of teaming up for a feminist film festival (f3) and this coincided with Dawn’s idea of a series of screenings celebrating women in film. We met to exchange ideas and are developing an exciting programme of films celebrating strong women and feminism – follow the discussion on: facebook.com/groups/riartgrrrls.

We were also incredibly lucky to have received a veritable goldmine from local artist & feminist Rachel Lever, who donated her amazing collection of feminist art books, magazines and newspapers from her work as a radical feminist in the 1980s & 1990s. Works include poetry such as Her Mind’s Eye, (ed. Rachel Lever), Women Artists Slide Library Journal (1998-90), FAN: Feminist Arts News (1998-9), Spare Rib (1980-82) and much more. All will be stored at underground experimental project space, 35 Robertson St – contact Xaverine for information about borrowing etc: xaverinemabates@gmail.com.

Banners for TUC march against the cuts 20.10.12; poster design by aardvark & logo design Elise Liversedge

Banners for TUC march against the cuts 20.10.12; poster design by aardvark & logo design Elise Liversedge

So after less than two months in existence, we have one definite & two possible exciting forthcoming events in the pipeline:

  • Trip to see Judy Chicago @ Ben Uri gallery, London NW8 & rG meet #3: 9.12.12
  • International Women’s Day event: March 2013
  • Feminist film festival/ women in film series: March 2013

The group is open to anyone of any gender who identifies with the sentiments in this article, although many issues pertain more to women artists across all genres. Everyone is welcome to our meetings, so for more information:

facebook.com/groups/riartgrrrls/: join the rG group to become involved in discussion about current & future projects

facebook.com/feministartistscollective: ‘like’ our page for regular updates to feminist artists, writers, musicians from around the world

riartgrrrls.blogspot.co.uk: check out the blog for topical creative feminist musings – if you have an article, short story, poem or artwork you’d like to share, do send it to xaverinemabates@gmail.com for consideration.

Come on Grrrls, let’s start a riart!!!

© rG xmab 2012

Posted 11:33 Wednesday, Nov 28, 2012 In: Campaigns

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