On Monday the 8th March 2021, I partook in an online exhibition for International women’s day hosted by ‘MCR Sew Social’. It was MCR Sew Social’s first online exhibition to celebrate International Women’s Day and it was also my first online exhibition too so I was increasingly curious as to how different it would feel from the ‘real thing’ (MCR Sew Social used ArtSteps to produce the exhibition!). The company is run by the amazing textile artists Louisa Hammond and Rowan Bridgewood and was established in 2018 as a ‘community for womxn artists and textile makers’ to meet around Greater Manchester.
As my work revolves around what it is like to be a woman in the 21st century, participating in this event was incredibly insightful. Female empowerment and representation are imperative in a society filled with gender bias and inequality therefore listening to the 21 women artists involved was inspiring.
The exhibition theme is ‘What does International Women’s Day mean to you?’ and saw all styles of textile and fibre female artists display their work with support from the Manchester City Council grant. To hear many of the artists themselves speak on Zoom about their work and what it meant to them therefore made it so I could really value their work with the understanding behind it.
One piece that particularly stood out to me was Rachel Rowley-Smiths ‘I am Womxn’. Her artwork is Cross-Stitch on a hoop and was completed in 2021. It is not so much the material or type of work I am interested in, but much more the message and concept behind Rowley-Smith’s piece.
She stated in the exhibition:
‘‘This is a cross stitch quote from Helen Reddy’s iconic song ‘I am Woman’. This quote speaks so many truths to me, we have come so far and done so much to narrow the equality gap between men and women, but we are nowhere near closing it completely. We have so, so much more to do and making out brother understand is a massive hurdle before we can start to reach true equality. IWD is a day to make our voices heard and help educate fellow women who do not know they are feminists yet but making our brother hear us. A simple piece, with meaning that packs a punch. The colours chosen are the suffragette colours of purple, white and green –
Purple for dignity and the blood that flows through every suffragette,
White for purity,
And Green for hop and the emblem of Spring.’’
A key part for me is to make everyone (both men, women and other) realise the polarity between the sexes not so much on the large scale but the smaller. For example, walking alone for women is increasingly more dangerous than it is for men – as broadcast with the recent incredibly sad death of Sarah Everett. I want to express and portray the double standards we have in this society through my work using weather as the uncontrollable medium. I am going to be exploring this concept in more detail with a further blog post soon. Rachel Rowley-Smith’s work is a perfect visual piece of art expanding upon this gap in equality, using cross stitch to display words rather than a scene.
MCR Sew Social mentioned at the very start of their exhibition ‘We are showcasing a variety of textile mediums from hand embroidery, weaving, sculpture, cross stitch, collage and appliqué.’ And with this I wasn’t sure if it could link into my current work, however, after listening into each woman’s different artistic approach there was a collective narrative – gender parity. With this comes a responsibility to make sure my work expresses how I feel as a woman, especially so I can represent the many woman that maybe don’t have a voice so loud. Overall, having the exhibition online was definitely a new experience but amazing to feel part of a community again, hearing the artists talk through the walk themselves rather than reading it. I would still have loved to really examine the artwork in person to see the processes and textures involved, however, considering the current pandemic this was definitely the next best thing!
Listening in to this exhibition and to be part of a collection of such inspiring women talking through their art so confidently was a privilege and, for me, somewhat educational. Being a young woman myself and facing the unfairness of the world first-hand, seeing these experienced, empowered and engaging female artists create their own narrative motivates me to, not only be more confident in my art, but also in myself.