Alone We Are Powerless, Together We Are Strong

Introducing a series of posts exploring last year's See Red Women's Workshop exhibition.

Jane Scarth

26 Aug 2013

Introducing a series of posts exploring last year's See Red Women's Workshop exhibition, Jane Scarth of the ICA's Student Forum addresses some of the key themes of the show.

Earlier this year, the ICA hosted an exhibition of work by See Red, a vibrant London based radical feminist print workshop of the 1970s – 1990s. While their work speaks very much to the politics of its time, this series of interviews will reveal the significance of their message today.

Working Collectively

Today, the idea of women’s only spaces is a contentious issue. If we are working towards the goal of equality, gender inclusivity needs to be a fundamental principle. Yet for See Red and other women of their era, gender-exclusive collectivity was the way forward. Working collectively reinforces autonomous female strength and provides an alternative model to an art world defined by male priorities. Contemporary to See Red, assumptions about art production were challenged by the Women’s Art History Collective. The collective were dedicated to overturning the patriarchal institution of art history and the exposure of female artists. The radical stance of these groups allowed them to initiate many of the fundamental shifts that are today taken for granted.

Women’s Representation in the Media

One thing that certainly hasn’t changed since the ‘70s is the representation of women in the media as a tool of patriarchal oppression. Currently feminist organisations including OBJECT and UK Feminista are campaigning to ‘Loose the Lads Mags’ as part of the attack on media sexism [1]. See Red were acutely aware of these issues, and there is certainly a symbolic power to using the same means of production, the printing press, to physically take things into your own hands. Once in their hands, See Red used a fantastic dark humour to subvert the degrading mythologies about women perpetuated in the press.

Radical Education

Something that was fundamental to See Red was a focus on what education in alternative skills for women could provide. The workshop held an open invitation for ‘any women interested’ to ‘come round and meet us and to use our facilities and learn printing methods’ [2]. These principles are being revisited now in the age of extensive cuts and rising fees, with community run free schools popping up not just in the UK, but cities across the world. There is a desire for physical spaces, group activities being used to empower people through the production of alternative knowledge. It is easy to romanticise the 1970s and ‘80s as a time when feminist groups organised extremely effectively against oppressive state powers. Today problems persist in a way masked by a faux-‘girl power,’ the individual women may make advances in male dominated institutional structures, albeit at the expense of other women. More recently however grassroots organisations are precipitating rapidly. Looking to See Red proves extremely significant because many of us need to learn how to be angry again, and join with those who already are.

See Red Women’s Workshop was at the ICA from 5 December 2012 - 13 January 2013.

[1] For more about this campaign, please see http://www.object.org.uk/campaigns/media-sexism
[2] See Red Manifesto available at http://radicalprintshops.org/dokuwiki/doku.php?id=see_red_women_s_workshop

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