31 Mar Crocheted masks ‘deface’ Manchester statues and mark extraordinary women’s achievements
Blog by Craftivist & Blogger Helen Le Caplain of www.mancunianvintage.com. If you would like to write a blog for our website please do email us.
Crochet, once the preserve of grannies and seen draped around the shoulders of 1970’s hippies with a penchant for ponchos, is now being used to celebrate Mancunian women’s achievements.
Nestled in the corridors of Manchester Town Hall is the Stature project, which sees the wooly likeness of a variety of extraordinary women superimposed over male municipal statues. Household names including suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst and novelist Elizabeth Gaskell have been immortalised in cotton along with 101-year-old politician, mathematician and gay rights advocate Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw.
Social justice campaigner Esther Roper, anti-racism campaigner Louise da-Cocodia MBE, scientist Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker, repertory theatre pioneer Annie Horniman and swimmer Ethel ‘Sunny’ Lowry, also join the masked line-up. There are 640 listed statues throughout the UK and just 15% are of women – of these most represent monarchs or mythological characters throughout history.
In an attempt to smash this gender inequality arts, crafts and heritage initiative Warp & Weft devised the installation to highlight women’s achievements. Exhibition curator Jenny White and crochet queen Helen Davies devised the installation over the course of a year taking into consideration who should be included and where they would put the woolly masks when they were ready.
Jenny explained that it was the different number of campaigns that were taking place in the UK over the last 12 months that really motivated her. She said: “It started last spring and I was really inspired by all of the activism going on.
“It was great to see women on bank notes and the No More Page 3 Campaign and banning lad mags from the supermarket as this is how we are represented in the public realm.”
The pair hunted across the city for a suitable site and as they looked inside the neo-gothic Town Hall, spotted the imposing line-up of male statues lining the corridors realizing they had found the perfect venue. Jenny added: “We had already talked about statues and found it made sense to hold it there as they’re not exposed to the elements and the weather. We chatted to people at the Town Hall and had to wait on the councillors’ permission which we got.”
The eight women in the exhibition were selected from a diverse range of backgrounds to make sure that achievements across different fields were recognised. The 39-year-old said: “We chose diverse representation not just people from one field but people who have had success in different backgrounds – from posh to working class.
“It’s been really interesting making connections with people. Louise da-Cocodia only just passed away a few years ago and her legacy still lives on here in Manchester. People have been really excited about her mask, especially people from the housing association she worked with. Equally the Royal Northern College were excited to hear about us celebrating Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw as she helped set them up.”
The exhibition has garnered interest from both people working in the town hall and other visitors who have seen the masks and read up about each woman and their contribution to society. The multi-coloured masks not only add a welcome splash of colour to the austere-looking corridors but also gives an insight into each women’s success. Such is the popularity of the exhibition it has been extended by three weeks and will run until the end of March.
Ethel ‘Sunny’ Lowry ate a mammoth 40 eggs a week to ensure she had enough energy for her swims and that, along with her ‘Sunny’ nickname inspired Helen to use a lot of yellow in her mask. Dr Kathleen Drew-Baker’s pioneering work helped save the Japanese sushi industry due to her seaweed research, and in recognition of this the colours in her mask are predominantly green.
Jenny added: “It feels so exciting and a kind of release to be celebrating some amazing women. We thought of it last year and it was a long time planning, it’s so exciting that so many people are enthusiastic too.”
For more information about the exhibition or the other work Warp & Weft do visit www.wearewarpandweft.wordpress.com
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