On Sunday 10th June, we will witness a unique mass-scale procession in four capitals, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff and London to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage which you may have caught glimpse to, Processions. Allowing conversation and discussion about being a women in the 21st century as well as playing an understanding to scale of marches and the fight for suffrage in the 1800s, Processions Edinburgh will be a great opportunity to celebrate the first votes for women in 1918.
Jean Cameron, national coordinator for Processions Edinburgh and Katie Reid from the Glasgow Women’s Library told us more about the project and how to get involved.
TF: Can you explain what Processions Scotland is?
Processions is a once in a lifetime opportunity to take part in a mass participatory artwork to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage. On Sunday 10 June, women and girls in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London will walk together wearing either green, white or violet scarves, the colours of the suffrage movement and they will be choreographed to walk in stripes in a flowing river of colour through the city streets creating a living portrait of women and girls in the 21st century.
As part of the project, one hundred organisations across the UK, have been commissioned to create handmade banners in collaborations with female artists, which participants will carry on the processions.
TF: What prompted this event, it seems enormous in capacity?
The centenary of women’s suffrage, and the need to raise awareness of this moment in UK history to encourage conversation about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. We know the capacity seems enormous but we want it to be the type of event people will look back on with pride in the future and say ‘I was there’.
TF: And the logistics for this must be a nightmare, what process was in place when deciding which organisations to choose?
Artichoke who are producing the event UK-wide are one of the country’s leading creative companies and producers of extraordinary live events. They use art to undermine the mundane and disrupt the everyday and their previous projects have been attended by hundreds of thousands of people, so they are well positioned to produce an event on this scale. Previous projects include Royal de Luxe’s The Sultan’s Elephant which brought an estimated 1 million people onto the streets of London, La Machine’s 50-foot high mechanical spider for Liverpool’s Capital of Culture celebrations; Lumiere – the UK’s largest light festival which has been staged in Durham every two years since 2009, Derry-Londonderry and more recently in London.
For the 100 artist-led workshops across the UK, the artists were nominated by the projects arts partners and Artichoke has been working very closely with each organisation to ensure that they have all the tools necessary to create a banner for the event.
It’s extraordinary to have one hundred women artists working in community settings across four nations on one single artwork. There’s an exceptional sense of solidarity and unity for the workshop participants in knowing that they are part of that, yet at the same time, each individual banner-making workshop is distinct and each group has the freedom to express what they want to celebrate and use their particular banner to say something about their own experience as women and girls in the 21st century. The geographical mix and the diverse range of women and girls making banners in Scotland is really important. These include an intergenerational group of women and girls in Ferguslie Park in Paisley, an LGBT youth group working in Aberdeen, The National Theatre of Scotland, An Lanntair Arts Centre in Stornoway and groups whose participation represent those still disenfranchised from voting in our country, including refugees and asylum seekers and women in prison.
TF: And where does the history lie in this kind of event, a hundred years ago this activity would be commonplace?
Edinburgh was host to one of the earliest suffrage societies established in the 1870s and marches would regularly take place along Princes Street. Therefore we are delighted that the Council has agreed for Processions to use Princes Street as part of the route on 10th June.
Processions will be the largest participatory textile project ever organised in the country since those historic rallies by women suffragettes. None of the original Scottish banners, carried by women in the vast Scottish rallies of the early 20th century have survived, some were deliberately destroyed at the time, many were discarded. Therefore on 10th June women will have the opportunity to reclaim and celebrate women’s rights to parade their own visual language in public, to proclaim a collective identity and to demonstrate Scottish women’s creative and artistic skills.
TF: What has been the Glasgow Women’s Library’s involvement in this event, it seems relevant to your work Katie?
The Glasgow Women’s Library has been working with Glasgow based print artist Helen de Main who has been leading a series of sessions this spring. These workshops invited women to talk about what political participation and decision making meant to them, and to think about ways that we can influence and make change in society. Women from all backgrounds and all levels of experience joined us for the discussions and to try out screen printing and together made a banner which we will take with us to PROCESSIONS on 10th June. 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which enabled all men and some women over the age of 30 to vote for the first time. This act did not give all women the vote but it is seen as a significant precursor to the eventual Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act of 1928. GWL are marking this year with a range of events that include exhibitions, workshops and events.
TF: And how can the rest of us get involved Jean?
PROCESSIONS is an artwork made by, with and for women and girls and those who identify as women and non binary.
Come along and join us in Edinburgh on 10th June at PROCESSIONS and be part of this once in a lifetime opportunity to commemorate the first votes for women in 1918, celebrate the achievements of women and girls in the 100 years since and be visible in a landmark artwork that will send out a massive message of collective intention to do what still needs to be done to create a truly equal society that will celebrate and recognise the talents and potential of girls and women in our country and beyond.
If you fancy making your own banner to bring along on the day, then you can use the easy to follow banner making toolkits for inspiration and practical tips. Toolkits include instructions for making an individual flag in as little as thirty minutes. If you do make a banner, please post a photo to @processions2018.
The assemble point will be Middle Meadow Walk in The Meadows in Edinburgh on 10th June between 12:15 and 13:30.