This Is Not A Memorial
I have been motivated by the misrepresented female narratives in our media and the many hidden or missing female histories in our historical records.
By replacing some of the artifacts in the Tunstall Gallery with contemporary works addressing the startling statistics of femicide in the 21st century, we can confront the invisible or erased histories of women in our world heritage sites.
This work is an attempt to begin to amend missing histories by inserting female stories into plain view, shoulder to shoulder with male narratives.
Women have left a powerful and lasting impact on the historic environment, despite their lack of visibility.
This exhibition gives female histories space to start conversations about the way women are currently being mistreated, how this violence is deeply ingrained in our history and how we choose to remember that past.
Most importantly, we must decide how we will take this information forward with us and make lasting change for the better.
History starts now.
As June 2020 saw a new wave of the BLM movement, a group of protesters in Bristol dismantled a statue of slave trader Edward Colston and threw it in the same river his slave ships docked.
This act of public outcry demanded that we question the monuments around us and how they may subliminally reinforce systematic inequality. Public memorials are an important element of our cultural backdrop.
They help us identify who and what is worth remembering, who and what is of value and signify who is permitted to use that space.
Not only should we challenge the histories our current monuments document and the outdated values they hold, we also need to start asking questions about the narratives that have been hidden and the stories that are not being told.
In 2018 it was reported that in the UK there are 828 recorded statues, only 174 of which are women. Of those women only 80 are named, 38 are royal and 66 are fictional or mythical creatures.
Monuments to women seldom represent women of colour, queer women, disabled women or older women.
The accepted form of women in our public spaces appears to be white, cisgender, straight, young and abled bodied, suggesting that those are the people who are most encouraged to use this space.
This is something that can be seen across our media, but is deeply ingrained in how our society has historically controlled how women understand their place in society.
In contrast to official monuments, spontaneous memorials occur when members of a community are compelled to pay their respects to the loss of a life, often taken before their time.
Such as the memorial for Sarah Everrard, these can include flowers, candles, photographs, letters and gifts in a public place which was important to the deceased, in life or in death.
Rather than a celebration of life, memorials to women are more likely to act as a warning, an indication of the terrible fate that may befall them if they do not behave in a way that is expected of them, the dangerous places or people in their vicinity and a clear message: YOU COULD BE NEXT. THIS SPACE IS NOT FOR YOU.
We do not memorialise women for their greatness, we remember them for their tragedy.
This message is reinforced by our media as we consistently see an idealised and unachievable representation of femininity which seems to suggest there are ‘correct’ forms of femininity and those who do not perform their assigned gender ‘correctly’ are placing themselves in danger.
This is amplified in the public sphere, where invisible lines are drawn across our towns and cities, denoting where it is ‘safe’ for women.
The media helps perpetuate women’s fear by sensationalising violent crimes committed against women by strangers in public places, despite the fact that violent crimes against women usually happen in the home by persons known to the victim.
By choosing to under-report on intimate partner violence or crimes that take place in the home, the media condition women to be afraid of traveling alone, especially at night, anywhere they might encounter unknown men.
It was recorded that between March 2020 and March 2021 118 women became victims of femicide in the UK.
I felt it was important to memorialise these women, a tribute to everything they achieved in life and all that they could have become if their lives were not cruelly cut short.