By Laura Potts

This year I was determined to make the most of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, taking place from the beginning of May. Last year I found myself reading about projects and events that had already taken place. However, this year I was aware of a project early on that was just getting underway: ‘Processions’, in association with Artichoke and 14-18 NOW. This idea saw a number of women gather together with local textile artist  Fiona Kay Muller to create a banner. This banner, with all its laboured hours very much part of its fibres, would then be part of a nationwide procession in London, also taking place in Belfast, Cardiff, and Edinburgh.

During the initial creative meetings, we discussed what we wanted the banner to represent and the message we hoped to convey. This facilitated extended group discussion regarding the topic of historical and contemporary womanhood. These brainstorming sessions were probably so fruitful due to the age range present: many generations sat around the table to sketch out, discuss, and evaluate possible ideas. The brief for the banner was fairly simple: keep to the colours of the suffragette movement and celebrate woman having the vote for 100 years. We finally settled on a number of aspects that we hoped to feature.


The Norwich Processions banner in action. Credit: Laura Potts

We wanted to nod to the past and feature some of the bizarre and ludicrous anti-suffragette slogans and propaganda from a century ago. We also wanted to remember the present with a mixture of gender-based slander that is still used today across society and even across institutions . These aspects of the work formed a translucent sheet that was the foreground of the banner, denied by a large black cross striking through the sexist imagery and language. It also paid homage to suffragette Mary Richardson, who controversially slashed paintings in the National Gallery to protest the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst. The middle section of the banner spoke a simple message: ‘Solidarity’. A solidarity that sits in the past as well as the present, with each letter embroidered with patterns traditionally from countries where women cannot vote or are discouraged to do so. This subtle reminder allowed us all to stay humbled by our privileged positions and to keep the drive to fight for those without the luxuries we have. Finally, the back of the banner was black, with messages embroidered also in black. These messages of hope and solidarity were paying tribute to imprisoned women who wrote on the walls of their cells. Scratching the letters on meant they were barely visible, much like the black thread on the black material. The collaborative process, along with the guidance of local textile artists and experts such as those at City College, allowed the various meanings, concepts and ideas of the banner to come together successfully.

The imagination and spirit of the day were inseparable from one another

During the banner-making workshops we worked in association with a number of other projects and events, such as Women of the World festival, and Print to the People, who printed the t-shirts that we all wore on the day. They bore the slogan ‘We stand in Solidarity 1948-2018’, marking the year that the modern women’s rights movement is documented to have begun. On the back of the t-shirts it reads ‘Still standing’ to respect and remember the fact there is still a long way to go. Members of the public were also able to join in, sign up to take part, or just help for the day with taking part in the different craft aspects of the project.

On the day of the march we took a bus from Norwich to London to make our way toward Marble Arch to begin the Procession from Park Lane. Suddenly, everything we’d been doing became very real. Hundreds of women gathered collectively with what they had so impressively produced. The imagination and spirit of the day were inseparable from one another. The beautiful weather added to the joy and celebratory feeling of the march. The route, closed off to all traffic, had speakers along the way to keep the crowd going. Residents hung from windows with shouts of support and cameras documented the event to be screened on BBC 1. We were reminded that it is easy to get bogged down with the ongoing fights that so many face daily. However, celebrating our achievements is equally as important. There is not one singular goal to be reached by all, so the steps taken by individuals before us are vitally noted. The parade brought this solidarity to life. It was refreshing to be surrounded by those still strongly holding on to the importance of equality.

A special thank you to Sarah Witcomb, participation and engagement manager of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, as well as all those who took part in the project.

Featured image credit: Sheila Burnett

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