Tuesday, 11 February 2020

'Then & Now,' 2019 a pot from 'And The Door Opened.'

'Then & Now,' 2019,  50 h x 32 w cms.
Hand built earthenware pot, slip-painted inside and out with sgraffito drawing through the slip. Smashed with a hammer after the first firing - 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.

'Then & Now' is one of the pots based on an account given to me by Women @the Well, (W@W).
The account had a strong sense of the past being shut away, for now, anyway. The woman describes her young life, raised in the care system, and being on the streets at an early age, being prostituted to get money for drugs for the pimp, (though she, herself was not using them to begin with,) street homeless and, in the end, in and out of prison. She describes herself as 'destitute, dirty and down.' Now she is being supported by W@W where she gets clean clothes, a hot meal and has a 'named worker.' That connection with a support worker whose name she knows and who knows her name seemed absolutely vital in this account. Here she was treated as fully human, perhaps for the first time in her young adult life. She was learning some basic skills, she had help to find housing - appropriated for her needs. In all the accounts I have read there is a powerful sense of separation  - an almost impregnable wall - between the 'world of the prostituted and the rest of the world.' This woman seems to be starting to breach that wall, starting to feel part of the world. Knowing another woman's name - a professional woman, not someone in the prostituted world - and her own name being known to her 'named worker,' was central to that process. She is also contacting family - there is one, somewhere.

The images you see on the pot are of her with her worker at W@W. They're all fictional images. I had to imagine her there and imagine what she might look like. Confidentiality is key to success so this is why I'm working with prepared accounts. I have shut her past away inside the pot but it appears in the cracks from time to time. The other common thread in all the accounts is trauma. These are women grossly abused and exploited, often from an early age, and exposed to persistent violence and brutality. Recovery from trauma is long process and rarely complete. Sex trade survivors remain vulnerable to further pressure. The broken pot, mended, but not fully, is a metaphor for surviving sexual violence and exploitation. It is not easy to do justice to these accounts and I did not want to avoid the shattering experiences these women had endured but nor did I want to reproduce the violence in pictures. Breaking and rebuilding the pot was the best approach. It represents the slow recovery and the lasting vulnerability while also honouring the courage of the women to survive and find different lives.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

And The Door Opened: the shop window display - November 2nd 2019-January 6th 2020

The show window display was set up on November 2nd and changed bit by bit throughout the display period as I was able to add complete pots. The titles were added last with quotes from some of the people who attended the launch and demonstration.

And The Door Opened: Drop in Demonstration and Workshop, November 30th and December 7th 2019

The drop in on November 30th brought people in from the shopping mall and library to see me demonstrating how to rebuild a shattered pot. Some people came, having attended the launch, others saw posters, others followed social media posts but most just came in from the mall.

The workshop, where I invited people to bring a broken pot from home and and I would show them how to mend it was all people returning from one of the earlier events. There are no images of the mending workshop, mainly because everyone was too busy concentrating on their work and because I forgot to take any but also because there was a kind of intimacy about the day. People brought their own things with their own stories. I can share one of these though. A woman brought a broken ceramic clown - just the button was broken, a tiny part of it but it was in numerous pieces. She was Nigerian and her father had been a leading trade union activist there. In the 1960s he went to Russia as part of a TU delegation and was given the clown as the TU equivalent of a diplomatic gift. She mended the button with utmost care. At the end she said, 'I'm going to leave out this last piece as a memorial and to honour all the shattered lives.'

And The Door Opened: the Launch, November 25th, 2019

'And the Door Opened' launched, (officiall,) on November 25th, to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Held in the old Post Office in Wood Green, now occupied by Collage-arts and renamed Collage Artspace 4, we had a full house - 53 people came not including speakers or photographer.

Me speaking, introducing the project and welcoming the audience. Speakers on the left, from left: Caroline Hattersley, director of Women @the Well; Fiona Broadfoot, sex trade survivor, founder of Build a Girl, and one of three survivors bringing the judicial review, with the Centre for Women's Justice, to get criminal convictions removed from the record exited women; Julie Bindel, journalist, researcher and campaigner and author of The Pimping of Prostitution,' 2017, Palgrave Macmillan; and next to Julie Bindel is Julie McNamara who compered and led us into the minute's silence before I smashed the pot in the centre of the room. She also ended the event reading Audre Lourde's 'Litany for Survival.' McNamara is a performer, writers, activist and Artist direct of Vital Exposure, 'a passionate plea for social justice.'  Below is a montage of three views of pot then called 'Ten Thousand Men,' that was smashed. It will be renamed once it is rebuilt and images of the women painted inside become dominant.

The images of me smashing the pot and the two below them are by Sylvain Deleu, as is the one directly above, showing a detail of the inside of the pot smashed at the Filia Conference in Bradford. This pot is now called, 'I'm Not The Criminal,' and the image is of Fiona Broadfoot who led the March Against the Sex Trade in Bradford where the pot was smashed. The other images show the pots on display at the event, some complete, some in progress. All photos by attendees - except the one with Fiona Broadfoot talking to journalist, Josephine Bartosch - that one is also by Sylvian Deleu.

Monday, 28 October 2019

March Against the Sex Trade, Filia Conference 2019, Bradford.

The March Against the Sex Trade took place on the Saturday evening, October 19th, at the end of day one of Filia conference. We assembled at twilight and processed to Centenary Square, the main square in Bradford. There we gathered in a circle and, after an introduction by Fiona Broadfoot, read out the names of all the women who had been murdered while exploited in prostitution. Shocking how long it took. As daylight was faded, and the sky went deep blue, we held up white roses and cards, each with the name of one murdered woman, and called out the names again, all together this time, like a Greek Chorus. Once all the names had been sounded at least three times, we had a minute’s silence to reflect on the harms of prostitution and sex trade, and to remember the lives and deaths of the women whose names were called. ‘The Invisible Man,’ the pot set up in the centre of the circle, ‘broke the silence,’ as it smashed on to the paved stone ground, releasing the images of women painted inside.

The memorial concluded with a song and a dance by an Argentinian woman, one of the conference speakers, whose daughter had been abducted, prostituted, and murdered in Buenos Aires.

Perhaps the most significant part though was this: I was about to collect and wrap up the shards when a young man who was passing by with his girlfriend, asked me if I knew Rebecca Hall, one of the women whose names were called out during the memorial. ‘I knew her,’ he said, ‘She was one of my best friends at school. This means so much to me.’ He then went and spoke to the woman holding the card with Rebecca’s name on it. You can read about Rebecca here.

The shards are now on their way back to the studio where they will be glazed and the pot reassembled but with pieces left out so you can see the images of the women painted inside. If all goes according to plan, the internal images – the women - will dominate. You will see them rather than the men depicted on the outside of the pot. The shattering and mending of a pot is a simple metaphor, reflected in the words, ‘I was shattered. Now I’m piecing myself slowly back together.’

Among my proudest moments, as a feminist and a potter, are when my pots are part of feminist activism, especially activism against the sex trade and the call for abolition. The March Against the Sex Trade was an action done as part of a feminist conference but in a public space. Reaching out to survivors, to family and friends of survivors, and to passers by  - the public in the most general sense, is surely the most important of any campaign. It was a huge honour to be part of it.

The names of the women murdered in prostitution in Bradford
May 21 2010, Suzanne Blamires, 36
April 26 2010 Shelley Armitage, 31
June 22 2009, Susan Rushworth, 43
April 26 2001: Rebecca Hall, 19
May 2000 Gemma Simpson, 23
October 1996: Caroline Creevy, 25
June 8 1995: Maureen Stepan, 18
1992 Yvonne Fitt, 32
1984: Deborah Kershaw,22
January 21 1978: Yvonne Pearson, 21
Wiki page – women UK-wide  - This is UK and Ireland - from 2010-today. 

Fiona Broadfoot is one of the women bringing the judicial review aiming to get convictions removed from the record of exited women and remove the need for disclosure which represents a major barrier for prostituted women who are trying to exit.