Saturday, 22 May 2021

And The Door Opened, ceramic project with Women @the Well, (W@W): rescheduling for 2021

1. 'The Inivisible Man,' 2019, which became, 'I'm Not The Criminal.'

Collaged to show the outside of pot which depicts the men that buy sex from women exploited in the sex trade.  The pot was smashed in Centenary Square, Bradford, at The March Against the Sex Trade, Filia international feminist conference, October 19th, 2019.

2. 'I'm Not The Criminal,' 2020 

In its unbroken state, this was 'The Invisible Man.' The shattered and rebuilt  - or second state - is 'I'm Not The Criminal,' depicting, inside the pot, the March Against the Sex Trade with Fiona Broadfoot who led the march with other sex trade survivors. 

3. Me with 'I'm Not The Criminal,' 2020. (all photos: Sylvain Deleu)

About the Project:

W@W is a women-only service located in Kings Cross dedicated to supporting women whose lives are affected - or at risk of being affected - by prostitution. They also offer support to women wishing to exit the sex trade and help them to identify and overcome the barriers that maybe obstructing that process. 

And The Door Opened,’ is a collection of pots, made in partnership with W@W, that illustrate the lives of the women they work with, based on accounts provided by the women themselves. Some of the pots represent the accounts of women survivors who have already exited and others are still involved in prostitution. 

The aim is to enhance the public's understanding of what prostitution is and to show that, with the right support, girls and women do not need to live and die exploited in the sex trade – there are ways out.

When and Where - latest updates and rescheduling for 2021..

Ceramic ArtLondon, dates tbc - possibly weekend Sept 3rd or 17th,  Central St Martins, Granary Building, 1 Granary Square, London, N1C 4AA 'And The Door Opened' is part of the Claytalks lecture series including a display of some of the pots.

Wood Green Library, 191 High Road, Wood Green, N22 6XD. Readings and pot smashing ceremony - News when the library opens fully in June. 

Beyond the Streets and St.Botolph’s without Aldgate, Aldgate High St, London EC3N 1AB
Beyond the Streets, leads a walking tour in Whitechapel in opposition to the ‘Jack the Ripper’ tours, on the last Thursday of the month. The tour talks about the lives of the women who were murdered, stopping at the places they lived, and also talks about the lives of women involved in prostitution now. Update coming soon on planned display of pots from June - September and an event in September
See Beyond the Streets website to book a place on the walking tour.

September 19th and October 3rd 2020 Southbank Open Spaces Trust with Crossbones Cemetery, Redcross Way, London, SE1 1SD  This event was'no platformed.'  You can read Josephine Bartosch's article about it here: 'The Silencing of Feminist Artists.'   I am looking for an alternative venue for a ceremonial smashing of a pot and for a permanent memorial. 
Cross Bones is the burial site of the ‘outcast’ people of the 17th and 18th centuries, including prostituted women.

Filia Conference, Portsmouth, 16th -17th October 2021 
Display of pots from And The Door Opened and pot smashing ceremony to end the Femicide March,  remembering the women murdered because they were women. 

Past Events 2020:

Jan 23rd 2020: Talking about 'And The Door Opened,' at Zuleika.
Informal talk, discussing the project with Q&A. 

Jan 14th-31st 2020 Zuleika Gallery, 6 Mason's Yard, London, SW1Y 6BU
Display of four pots from 'And The Door Opened,' as part of a gallery artists show, 'January Edit.'  Zuleika's official launch of the project

Past events 2019

November 7thth-December 31st 2019 with Collage-arts at Collage Artspace 4 and Wood Green Library, Library Mall, 191 High St, London, N22 6DZ
Window display and display in library Nov 7th 2019 -Jan 6th, 2020
Launch with speakers and pot-breaking ceremony: Nov 25th  (to coincide with UN 16 days campaigning to eliminate violence against women;) Details of event available here
Photos and brief summary here.

Demonstration of mending a pot with talk: Nov 30th 12-4pm;
How to mend a pot - workshop for participants Dec 7th 12-4pm.
Brief description and photos of both events here.

October 30th 2019a talk about the project at Soho Farmhouse, Oxfordshire

October 19th 2019unofficial launch - Filia Conference, Bradford, 'The Invisible Man' was smashed as part of the March against the Sex Trade. Pictures and description of the event here.

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Cancel Culture: the reality for one artist

 Cancel Culture: one artist's experience

I've had my work withdrawn from exhibitions, or been threatened with the same, or had an event involving both me and my work withdrawn, on and off since 2010.

2010: after two years of planning and 30 days before opening, I received an email from the exhibitions organiser at Bradford Metropolitan Council’s Museum’s and Galleries, to say one of my pots would be withdrawn from the proposed show, ‘Shattered,’ because of the ‘clear vagina imagery.’ I noticed they'd used an image of that pot for their publicity and pointed that out. I also lobbied locally among people of influence I knew. A diligent local journalist noticed an unusual silence about forthcoming show so investigated. He found me and my blog posts and wrote an article in the Keighley News. The local vicar complained it was censorship. The battle raged. I won a partial victory. The pot was reinstated, but only one side was made visible. Visitors complained that they couldn't see the work properly. I sought compensation and got it - in kind – in the form of magazine quality photos of said show. For the record ‘Shattered’ comprised five pots, each 2 metres high. It was ‘Princess Hymen’ that was withdrawn. There is no vagina imagery as such. The image is woman opening her make up bag. It is a visual pun, certainly, but hardly likely to offend. During the installation of the show, I was told that one of the complaints was that I'd ‘criticised their culture,’ by denouncing FGM, criticising hymen reconstruction, and questioning the entire concept of the virgin body. It was thought the work might ‘offend the local Muslims.’ Curiously, however, no one had thought to consult any of the local Muslim populations. This was the second time a Museum had slandered both me, my work, and their own audiences, notably their Muslim audiences, and tried to dress up their own cultural and religious ignorance, their anxiety and possibly some racism, and present them as anti racism or at least some kind of community sensitivity. The first time was the same work which was to show at a venue in London. A similar anxiety was expressed. That time organiser understood and accepted that she couldn't know everything so, wisely, sought advice from someone who knew more. After a meeting, her fears allayed, the show went ahead. It was extended for a week by popular demand - notably from the local, very varied, Muslim populations.

2016: after the above fiascos, I had sworn I would never show in a public sector space again. Sadly, I broke my own promise when I was invited to show five jugs in an exhibition at People's History Museum, Manchester. 

There was a complaint by 11am on the first morning. I had represented, on a jug, a protest by French Arab women in Paris. One of them has written ‘Fuck the Sharia’ in English on her stomach. I depicted her and her slogan. The complainer declared she was offended and sallied forth to Twitter to shout about it. Her call to outrage was largely ignored but I responded to all her frothing with some care, as is my habit. I do it for the silent readers, in case there are any. By lunchtime the same day, I received an email from the Museum director saying they'd withdrawn another jug with a picture of a weeping man on it. ‘We thought it might be the Prophet Mohammed and that someone might be offended.’ In this case, no one had complained. I explained that depicting the Prophet isn't blasphemy - venerating the depiction is the blasphemy – and that to take sides in what amounts to a sectarian disagreement is extraordinarily ill advised. I also observed that there is no prohibition of blasphemy in British law. The title of the show, by the way, was ‘Ideas Worth Fighting For.’ 

All three of the above occasions were examples of a common art world problem. It can be summed up like this: ‘There's a great bit hairy scary Muslim out there and I’m afraid he's going to OBJECT and possibly explode.’ It is fear of conflict, fear of disapproval, fear of peer group disapproval and ignorance of the issues. It is also, it must be said, straight forward racism.  All of these are masqueraded as anti-racism. 

2019 – Venue: Crossbones Cemetery, a 17th and 18th burial ground for the "outcast poor," including a great many sexually exploited and prostituted women and girls. It was an early experiment in full decriminalisation of the sex trade. The women were licensed by the church to be exploited without fear of arrest so that men could, relieve themselves of all that excess sperm in peace. The women and girls were still denied Christian burial so were buried there unmarked and unremembered. My event, in partnership with an exiting service based in Kings Cross was to be a memorial event, involving the smashing of a pot, to remember and names of all the women and girls murdered in prostitution since records have been kept. The host organisation, Bankside Open Spaces Trust, (BOST,) was keen and the event was agreed as was Arts Council funding. Then came the email: it was decided we couldn't proceed this event because, to paraphrase, ‘you sell your work in a Mayfair Gallery. You're too commercial.’ In fact, what had happened, was this: I had been invited to give a presentation of the proposed event for ten minutes to BOST and Friends of Crossbones. Half way through the presentation, three Phd students came in and proceeded to grill me for an hour. ‘It's too negative,’ they whined, ‘We're "sex positive.”’ (“Sex positive?” I thought that old chestnut went out in the 1990s.) They were among the volunteers from Friends of Crossbones and disapproved of the event on political grounds. They duly withdrew their volunteer labour leaving BOST no option but to pull out. 

I had notched up another cancellation. This time I had the wrong political response the sex trade. Yet again, those doing the cancelling were evasive and not entirely truthful. The ‘commercial’ line was a smoke screen and BOST knew it but wouldn’t admit to the real issue. They were also possibly in breach of contract which may have accounted for the studied silence. Fundamentally though, people who cancel, ‘not platform’ or censor, always lie about the reasons because they know, damn well, they're doing something wrong.

Add to these, two more instances worth discussing. One, in 2018, was to take part in a show about Clause 28 to be held at Sussex University. I sent some examples of work they would be available and also stated that if any of my work was shown, I would ask them to sign a contract to agree to leave it on display no matter how many people complain. At this point, all contact ceased without explanation. This may simply be that none of the work I offered was consistent with the aim of the show but, after a while, one becomes a little paranoid – hence my insistence on a contract. In 2017, the Woman's Hour Craft Prize stated in the T&C's – paraphrasing again – ‘No blasphemy and nothing that might offend. We reserve the right to remove work from shows as needed.’ I had considered applying but, instead, wrote to the organisers to complain, received a ‘holding email’ and have heard nothing since. The prize was organised by The Crafts Council, the BBC, and the V&A. The Crafts Council is a QUANGO - now, I think a govt department - the V&A is also a QUANGO. These are not neutral spaces. They also, apparently, see fit to make up laws when they feel like it. 

Then there is ‘TERFs Out Of Art.’ This is a Twitter account. It is a network of some four thousand artworldists, about half of whom are professionals, some from major art galleries, museums, universities, and studios. Their followers include some well known writers and curators - people who can make or break you. They listed me as ‘verboten,’ within 24 hours of the launch. On top of that I was listed by Oxford Brookes University LGBT society as a ‘forbidden’ artist shortly after I had given a talk on the right to free expression in 2018…

In the art world ‘cancelling’ someone is a way of constructing networks and communities. – gangs, if you like. In large part, cancelling someone, and showing you've cancelled them, is a way to advance your career and, potentially, secure an income or even make some real money. Politics, especially the politics around equality of opportunity and advancement, has become thoroughly corrupted. These days, unfortunately, the words "diversity" and "intersectional," have lost most of their meaning if, indeed, they were ever fully understood. 

‘Cancel Culture,’ for artists rarely takes the same form as it does for journalists and academics. In my case it has been my work, rather than me, that has been ‘cancelled.’ The ‘Shattered’ fiasco involved Bradford Metropolitan Council and Haringey Council so it is clear that the impulse to control and censor most often comes from organisations close to government. They are powerful. If you ignore Cancel Culture, and delude yourself that it is just and a few students and that the main source of complaint is from ‘the Tories’ or ‘racists’ or whoever your favourite target is, you leave yourself open to the same treatment. As you have seen, most of my experiences of cancellation is motivated by ignorance, racism and misogyny, not by knowledge, anti-racism, or feminism.

I have provided a snap shot of what 'Cancel Culture' is in action. For the artist, it is both demoralising and damaging. If you cannot show your work in public spaces, your career will eventually die. It never happens to the big people - Grayson Perry, for example, has never been cancelled. It only happens to those of us regarded as disposable - which suggests it is done so the canceller/censor can parade their own credentials to their target audience rather than any serious desire to protect their audiences from whatever they perceive as harmful. I do not believe for a second that any of these people really believed I was doing or saying anything harmful. They were appeasing something or someone they understand to be powerful or influential. That someone of something may not even exist. 

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Comrade Corbyn's Allotment, 2018

Another excuse to satirise Labour Party politics of 2015-20 and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in particular. It seems unbelievable and horrifying now that he could have held that position for so long.  The background to this pot is the attempted murder in 2018 of former military officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury - presumably on Putin's orders - using the nerve agent, Novichok. There was a repeat use of this chemical weapon that killed two UK citizens. Corbyn refused to condemn Russia for an attack that might have resulted in the mass poisoning of much of the population of a British city. 

Comrade Corbyn's Allotment, (based on Mary Mary Quite Contrary): 

Comrade Corbyn
Puppet of Putin
How’s your allotment grow?

With Novichok
Antisemites and a
Poisoning pretty maids
And then

Corbyn leans on his spade, a basket of beetroot at his feet. There's a story in that but it is a minor detail for this pot, anyway. Shami Shakrabati waters the allotment as Niobe, 'all tears,' as she fondly strokes an Ermine and John Mcdonnell is wheeling away the skull harvest in his barrow. 

Death calls by and does a final sweep. 

The Ballad of Sister Bergdorf, 2018

A Pilgrim vase - about 30 x 30 cm approx

Some Background 
The Ballad of Sister Bergdorf grew out my observation that an unholy coupling had occurred between religion and politics. The vile progeny that resulted was 'art discourse.' I have discussed 'cultural appropriation,' since the 1980s, theorised 'appropriately,' particularly on ceramics, since the 1990s, debated with feminists on transgender politics, among other things, since the late 1990s, and argued with transactivists since the early 2000s. I've held forth on social media - mostly on Facebook -  about all of it since 2010. I have even been described as a 'veteran of the culture wars,' by the writer Jo Bartosch so, if that doesn't convince you that I am familiar with this territory, nothing will. It took some time to find my satirical voice - or at least to find a way to express it on pots - but the jugs that I started making in 2015 gave vent to the first collection of work that deals directly with the increasing madness of politics. Looking back now, I can see the satire clearly enough in Nightwalker, (2014,) and there are probably hints before that. 

About the politics
When politics walked through the looking glass and the Labour Party appointed Munroe Bergdorf, a transwoman, as their advisor on 'LGBT' issues, it was time to respond. Bergdorf isn't gay. Transgender isn't gay - it isn't about who you love, it's about how you see yourself. Bergdorf has had vast amounts of radical and cosmetic surgery to make her body resemble an idealised, porn-woman. 'She' lives as she imagines a woman might, but she is not female - or as we used to say, 'a woman.' Her sex is male, consistent with being what we used to call 'a man.' Nonetheless she - yes I do use that term for her because I've grown used to it and do not wish to have my pronouns policed by purists any more than I do by transactivists - she opines on feminism, shamelessly lecturing women on how to do feminism better, and is now lecturing anyone who will listen on the matter of menstrual periods. This is someone who grew up a boy and has never had a period in her life. This is where we find ourselves: MtF transexual women claiming to have experiential knowledge of menstruation simply because they call themselves women and choose to ignore the fact they are biologically male. Their notion of sex (the noun not the verb,) is that it is based on faith - like religion - not on biological material reality. Put simply, Transactivists and their institutions, Stonewall and many others, have conflated sex and gender and sought to impose their beliefs on the entire population. Volumes of analysis has been written on this, so I will not add more. The redoubtable Allison Bailey, from LGB Alliance, covers most of the main points in her statement which was redacted from her crowdjustice page - as if to prove the very point the statement makes - but reproduced with permission by A Woman's Place UK.  A good ten volumes would now be required to cover all the issues adequately, and this is just a blog post, but it should make my own position clear. This piece I wrote for 'Howie's Corner,' for International Women's Day, may clarify some further issues if needed. 

About the pot
The Ballad of Sister Bergdorf is only the beginning. There will have to be more because the madness has spun right out of control but, at the time I made this, I was still finding a way to convert words like these into pots. I chose a pilgrim flask form because it has religious connotations. I also like the simple binary of the shape it has front and a back, or it can do, and it has its ceramic roots in Renaissance Maiolica which featured religious imagery, mythology and, on occasion, political satire.

I also set myself the challenge of using buzz words from academia and art-talk just for hell of it. Look out for the following: 
misgender - as in 'you misgendered me.' This means speaking to or about a transperson using the wrong pronoun - an offence for which women have lost their jobs and their livelihoods and for which some have been investigated by police. 
Othering -  a process of creating difference and distance between groups of people. I like this term and find it one the more useful ideas couched in language that academia has provided in the last thirty years or so. 
Cultural Appropriation - the assertion that a cultural artefact, performance, or custom belongs to a specific culture and is appropriated by another - often with a socio-political or geopolitical dimension that disadvantages the 'owner' or presumed originator of the culture. It is characterised by exponents as theft from a subjugated culture or people by a dominant or more powerful culture or nation. This one is a political and cultural minefield and is fundamentally dependent on Nationalist politics to operate. As such, it is inherently flawed since has become part of the most treasured political tools of people who regard themselves as anti-Imperialist. While anti-Imperialism and Nationalism certainly do go together, Nationalism cannot work with anti-racism and proponents of the ideology of cultural appropriation, for the most part, think of themselves as vehemently anti-racist - and often are, passionately so. Hence the minefield. 

Here is the text in full as it is written on the pot pictured above. 

The Ballad of Sister Bergdorf

Her novitiate completed,
Miss Gender Ring-Munroe
Bade farewell to the Convent sisters
Of St. Simpering-le-Beau

To the land of Eternal Doublethink
Our pious pilgrim was bound
Where Our Lady of Perpetual Othering’s
Shrine, in the woods, by a river, was found.

She hadn’t been long on the road
Only a mile from Doublethink Station
When Lo! She beheld the Sepulchre
Of Cultural Appropriation.

The stone had been rolled away
And there appeared Our Lady of Other,
Miss Gender was struck
By the light – What the Fuck!
I’m not a nun,
I’m a monk!
I’m a Brother!

Saturday, 2 May 2020

'I'm Not The Criminal,' 2019, A Pot from 'And The Door Opened'

'Im Not The Criminal,' 2019, 60h x 38w cm  

I'm Not The Criminal
The dominant image of, 'I'm Not The Criminal,' is the portrait of Fiona Broadfoot, a sex trade survivor and campaigner for the abolition of the sex trade. She is one of three women who, with the Centre for Women's Justice, brought the judicial review to have the criminal convictions of exited women removed from the records. Currently, those convictions remain on police records for one hundred years - longer than the life of the woman herself - surely one of the most inhumane and vindictive legal sanctions we have in Britain and wholly unjustifiable. The title of the pot comes from the hashtag adopted for the campaign, #I'mNoCriminal. I am indebted to Fiona for her help with this project, 'And The Door Opened,' which I'm doing in partnership with Women @the Well.  You can read more about her on this website - scroll right until you find her. 

Two Titles
'I'm Not The Criminal,' in its unbroken state, was called, 'The Invisible Man.' On the outside, it depicts a burlesque of hideous characters on the sex trade merry-go-round. These are the men who buy sex, also known as punters/johns/tricks. You can call them what you want - they amount to the same thing: they are the men who pay to abuse exploited and prostituted women and girls. This is not an, 'equal financial transaction,' as some claim, they are buying the submission and, crucially, the silence of the women they abuse. It also depicts the pimps, brothel owners, hotel and escort agency owners, travel tour guides who run 'stag nights,' and so on. It depicts the men who 'groom,' in gangs, the church men, the legal teams who dismiss the testimony of the girls as 'unreliable,' and the police who arrest the exploited girls and women but not the pimps or punters. One of the reasons these pots are broken and rebuilt is to smash the power and dominance of the men and to bring out and emphasise the courage and persistence of the women to speak out, ‘break the silence,’ and campaign for change. This is also the reason for the changing title – it expresses the women’s refusal to submit to the social and legal sanctions imposed on them, and on all prostituted women and girls, and their capacity to wrest the power from the dominant abusive men to effect change in their own lives and in society.

Why ‘Invisible?’
'The Invisible Man,' was so called because the public conversation and focus of every second of media coverage from obscure internet channels to social media to mainstream TV and radio to print journalism, is on the women. It is hardly ever on the men. The men of the sex trade - who are its market, its life blood - the abusers and profiteers, define and embody the sex trade but they escape scrutiny and act with impunity day in day out while the women, the abused and exploited, get the blame and stigma. I am not wholly opposed to stigma - I just think it needs to be relocated - on to the men. I owe this title to Julie Bindel whose excellent book, 'The Pimping of Prostitution,' Palgrave Macmillan, 2017 includes a chapter on this subject, called 'The Invisible Man.' I would also like to alert the reader the work of Raquel Rosario Sanchez who is currently research men who buy sex using the reviews they write of the women they abuse in prostitution.

How and why: the images on the pot – inside and out
The pot is painted on the inside as well the outside. The inside is painted as the pot is being built up. The colours inside are lighter and brighter than the exterior colours so that once the pot has been broken and rebuilt the interior is clearly visible through the gaps. There are images of women on horseback painted inside. It is an allegorical and idealistic image of escape – as though the merry go round horses have come to life to carry the women away to a safer life. The portrait of Fiona Broadfoot was painted on the biggest shard, after the pot was broken. This was to ensure her image was complete. There are images of broken faces of women inside – again I have no wish to deny the damage the sex trade does to women and girls – but I do not want these to be the only images visible.

The merry-go-round motif on this pot is one I have used many times. It is perfect for the dynamic, turning form of a pot and allows a satirical, grotesque characterisation of the men depicted. The Merry-go-round horses get more vicious every time I paint them. These are biting and kicking the men, bucking them off and trampling on them. I want to express the violence of the sex trade - it is necessary to do so. I do not want to hide from it but I have no desire to reproduce images of sexualised violence against women by these men in pictorial form. Another reason to smash the pot is to expresses the violence.

Breaking pots
This pot – in its first state, as ‘The Invisible Man,’ was broken as part of a march against the sex trade in Bradford. (This is an earlier post on this blog.) It was also a memorial procession which ended with a calling out of the all the names of women murdered in prostitution since records have been kept. At the end of a minute's silence, the pot was smashed. The shards were collected and taken back to the studio. There I added the new images, glazed the shards, fired them and then pieced the pot back together, leaving gaps through which the images of the women who have survived the sex trade become visible. The gaps are edged in gold leaf to frame and emphasise the women and to honour their courage and their struggle to survive.

A fired pot can be pieced back together so that it, near enough, retrieves its original form. It is more fragile now and will break again if subject to further pressure but it is remarkably robust and will last well into the future. The method for making the pots is based on the expression, 'I was shattered. Now I'm piecing myself slowly back together.' Or 'I have to completely rebuild my life.' These and similar expressions are commonly used by anyone who has experienced major trauma. The process is a metaphor, in effect, for the trauma and the process of surviving and living into the future. Sex trade survivors often carry a deeply embodied trauma. They are vulnerable to further pressures but, nonetheless, many survive and, eventually, thrive.

Pots - photo credit: Sylvain Deleu.
Smashed pot - photo credit: Studio Twelve, Bradford

Women @the Well, (W@W,) is a women-only service located in Kings Cross dedicated to supporting women whose lives are affected, or at risk of being affected, by prostitution. It also provides support to exit prostitution. 

‘And The Door Opened, is a series of events with displays of Claudia’s pots, with talks and demonstrations that illustrate the lives of the women supported by W@W.

The aim is to enhance the public’s understanding of what prostitution is, to name the abuse and exploitation, and to show that, with the right support, girls and women do not need to live and die exploited in the sex trade – there are ways out.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

'February, Dark and Cold,' 2019, a pot from 'And The Door Opened,'

'February Dark and Cold,' 2019, 63 h x 28 w cm 

Hand built earthenware pot, slip-painted inside and out with sgraffito drawing through the slip. Bisque fired. Smashed by dropping it into a box on the floor. The box helps to contain the flying shards but it also breaks the fall to some extent so the shattering isn't so dramatic. Some of the larger pieces were dropped again to encourage them to break a bit more. The shards were then collected up and glazed, then fired, and the pieces reassembled with some left out so the viewer can glimpse the images inside. Broken edges gilded in gold leaf.

About the pot
This is the account of a young woman, a fifteen year old girl at the start of her story, whose mother had a job that frequently took her abroad. She seems to have had no other parent or guardian so was left alone. The account is sparse. At some point she has a son, has a drink and drug problem, and also mental health difficulties. When W@W first meet her, she is being sold for sex on the London streets. They help her to 'return to her northern town,' to her family. She leaves again. It appears there is sexual abuse and/or exploitation but it is not spelled out. She returns to London and is street homeless - and immensely vulnerable to (further?) exploitation in prostitution. She describes the cold dark damp of February and the violence on the London streets. At some point she is arrested and is in prison for a while. Once out of prison she contacts W@W again and gets support with the drugs and alcohol problems. They also help her to find a housing solution. This very young woman with a history of abuse going back to her early teenage years now has an interlocking mix of problems which, together, make housing and a future life immensely difficult. The pot has a number of gaps and cracks. This young woman's process of mending her life is only midway, probably. She still has a long way to go. She misses her child. It is unclear where her mother and the rest of her family is. What is clear is that she knows W@W are there to provide support when she needs it.

Photo credit: Sylvain Deleu.

Women @the Well, (W@W,) is a women-only service located in Kings Cross dedicated to supporting women whose lives are affected, or at risk of being affected, by prostitution. It also provides support to exit prostitution. 

‘And The Door Opened, is a series of events with displays of Claudia’s pots, with talks and demonstrations that illustrate the lives of the women supported by W@W.

The aim is to enhance the public’s understanding of what prostitution is, to name the abuse and exploitation, and to show that, with the right support, girls and women do not need to live and die exploited in the sex trade – there are ways out.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

'Street Exit,' 2019, A Pot from And The Door Opened

'Street Exit,' 2019, 60 h x 28 w cm 

Hand built earthenware pot, slip-painted inside and out with sgraffito drawing through the slip. The bisque fired pot was then smashed with a hammer - an uncomfortable process - avoiding hitting any of the women, just going for the bits in between. Shards collected up and glazed, then fired, and the pieces reassembled with some left out so the viewer can glimpse the images inside. Broken edges gilded in gold leaf.

About the pot
'Street Exit,' is based on an account given to me by Women @the Well. The images inside the pot show the living places of a homeless woman who met W@W outreach workers in Hackney. She describes 'sofa surfing' with friends who were 'heavy substance users.' She wanted to get away from them so she moved to a tent in a 'green area in Hackney.' She was being exploited in prostitution in both these situations.W@W helped find a place in a hostel and set in motion a support system to help her to reduce and eventually cease her substance use and also to find a way to exit prostitution with the ultimate aim of finding safe, permanent accommodation. The latter is a longer term and probably more difficult goal to achieve given the extreme shortage of safe housing for women in London - particularly those with such complex range of vulnerabilities.

The outside of the pot shows the progress of a woman from street to hostel based on details from the above account and some others along with my own encounters with street homeless women on public transport. Homeless women often avoid hostels because they are heavily male dominated and pose a real threat of sexual violence from the men there. They also avoid the street, if they can, for the same reasons - and also because of the cold, the wet and the sheer exhaustion of never really sleeping -  so public transport, being both public, rather than hidden, and a bit warmer and dryer is potentially a better option. The images above show a woman begging in the underground both at the station and on a train, sleeping - or trying to - in the station and on a bus and, finally, in a hostel sitting at table with a cup of tea contemplating the long and difficult process ahead. Like many of the accounts W@W have asked me to work with, this woman's life is very 'in process.' She has not yet reached a safe conclusion.

'Street Exit,' like 'Women @the Well,' the pot posted earlier, is a broken and mended pot. The images inside are visible through the gaps but only just. You do need to see the pot, 'in person,' to be able to see them. The shattering of the pot is a metaphor the broken feelings the woman expresses and her process of slowly piecing her life back together. It is an imperfect process. She is unlikely to reach a state of complete 'restoration,' but she can continue to live and may be able to thrive, in time. Memories and images of her past will impinge on her present from time to time, however. She may well not live in the past but the past, to some extent, will probably live in her, in her 'emotional muscle memory,' if I may put it that way, and it may be expressed through her emotional responses to things and to situations. I frame the fissures and and gaps in gold leaf to honour her survival and her struggle to proceed through life.

Photo credit: Sylvain Deleu.

Women @the Well, (W@W,) is a women-only service located in Kings Cross dedicated to supporting women whose lives are affected, or at risk of being affected, by prostitution. It also provides support to exit prostitution. 

‘And The Door Opened, is a series of events with displays of Claudia’s pots, with talks and demonstrations that illustrate the lives of the women supported by W@W.

The aim is to enhance the public’s understanding of what prostitution is, to name the abuse and exploitation, and to show that, with the right support, girls and women do not need to live and die exploited in the sex trade – there are ways out.