University of Dundee, Masters Exhibition 2017
The Masters degree show at Dundee University opens on Friday night 18th August and runs for a week. When I started the course, it was always my intention to have an exhibition that highlights Female Genital Mutilation (F.G.M.) to increase public awareness.
I have two small spaces in the exhibition. The first one is a white cube space with just a sound piece and a silent film. The sound piece is a short reading from Waris Dirie’s book Desert Flower and the film is a short recoding of me ripping up the message in the cross-stitch. There are postcards, including information about Forward, the FGM charity, and badges for viewers to take away.
The second space shows four of my FGM dresses on mannequins.
Feminist Society Talk 17th May 2017
I approached Dundee University Femsoc about whether they felt it would be of interest to have a talk about FGM. Louisa booked a lecture theatre in the Dalhousie building for 7PM. Eight people turned up and surprisingly there were 3 guys! Good to see they came to a femsoc meeting and secondly that they were brave enough to come to a meeting about FGM.
I designed my talk around FGM and my artwork. I had an introductory section with info about me and my background. Then there was a factual section about what FGM is, the incidence of it, health implications and the cultural myths surrounding it. Then I introduced all the artwork I have done since I started researching the topic. I finished with a film from Forward called ‘Needlework’ and an opportunity for discussion.
I felt quite calm and focused throughout the presentation trying to make it as casual as possible. I think I rushed it a bit . It’s a difficult subject to talk about and I feel the best way is to keep it matter-of-fact not get too emotional. Eye contact varied with the audience especially at the difficult bits, there was some uneasy body language and some tears from one girl. I felt the film was very effective all the more so because its an animation and its short. After the film ended I left a long silence before the discussion and I think this was extremely effective, giving people time to reflect. Then for the discussion I sat down with them right at the front trying to remove any barriers.
Discussion ranged from some questions about the countries where it happens and the law in the UK. We discussed about the critcism of should I, a British White Western women criticize and campaign against something from another culture? I asked them about Facebook and whether I should make a facebook page – a resounding YES from a younger generation!
This was a good first public outing for me about FGM specifically and I was very comfortable with a small audience. I really think this is the size of audience to go for. It stays personal and intimate with people not being intimidated to talk and also making it easy for me to gauge reaction and see if anyone is getting too distressed.
Logo and Badges
Another collaboration I have done recently is with Jon Liddle. I wanted to have some sort of symbol to identify my work on FGM. Jon and I had quite intense discussions about what makes a good logo. So many variables! At one point we thought we were maybe over thinking it but I guess these sort of discussions are common for designers. I wanted something to represent Type 3 FGM as this is the most severe. Jon produced various designs and we agreed on this one.
He then came up with some different colour schemes for button badges which I am going to give away at the Masters Exhibition.
I have been thinking about other textile responses to FGM and thought about the cross stitch I did for my daughter when she was born. I liked the idea of representing both African and Western cultures as FGM happens in both places. I took some of the images from my daughters one and combined them with images from an African themed one I found on the Etsy Website. I obtained permission to replicate it from the artist. I wanted it to look all nice, cute and child-like but with a powerful message.
Rather than just sticking it up on the wall, I decided to ‘activate’ it. Sarah Smart an artist who works at the Uni, is collaborating with me. She is filming me ripping the text up with a razor blade and will then reverse the film to show the writing ‘appearing’ . My plan is to show this on a projection at the Masters exhibition.
I have made a few more FGM dresses this semester. Going into Primark and charity shops I have been finding plain black dresses that I can subvert for about a fiver. The ones I like the most have been made using the laser cutters at college. They cut the material but by changing the power setting you can emboss with them too ( controlled burning!) Here is some embossing on felt:
I have been cutting out FGM in block lettering and then sewing in satin behind it to show up the letters. I like the fact its not easy to read it when you first look at it, it makes you look twice. The other day I was sewing in the letters and held it up to the light and it looked really good so I am going to experiment with a light source behind the letters when it is on the mannequin.
Other dresses include material printed with text from The Hosken Report (a comprehensive report on FGM printed in 1973) and some red lacing as a feature.
Another idea I had was adding some of the text in the form of a small label/badge reminiscent of jews and homosexuals wore badges in concentration camps.
My Art Residency at Forward
FORWARD (Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) is committed to gender equality and safeguarding the rights of African girls and women.
We are a leading African diaspora women’s campaign and support organisation. We work through partnerships in the UK, Europe and Africa to transform lives, tackling discriminatory practices that affect the dignity and wellbeing of girls and women. Our focus is on female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and obstetric fistula.
I spent two weeks there in February. It was an immersive experience getting a ‘feel’ for how they operate and an understanding of how they approach educating and increasing public awareness and the support they give victims of FGM.
I looked at various posters they had used over the years. Here is a sample:
I discussed the posters with staff asking them what they thought worked, what didn’t, what font was effective and issues like how much information should you put on a poster. Going home on the tube one evening, this poster caught my attention and I was aware how it affected me.
When I came home, I designed a set of 4 posters and small postcards mainly highlighting the myths surrounding FGM in this country. For the images, I bought some beads from the African Fabric Shop online. The postcards, I am going to give away at the Masters exhibition in August.
There was a lot going on while I was there including a high profile FGM conference with a good range of speakers including an MP, a Home Office spokesman and a Paediatric surgeon. I learnt a lot on that day!
Other activities I took part in were an FGM training day for primary school teachers in Houslow, role play activities and helping with a play that was being rehearsed for a local community performance. And I also got the database to edit!!
It was a fantastic experience. I made some good friends and did some serious networking. My memory is of the laughter and sense of humour from these women at Forward – a strategy for dealing with the awful issues of FGM .
Last year for the Diversion Exhibition, I put a copy of the poem ‘The Cut’ on the wall for people to read. It is not an easy read, it says it like it is. More recently I have tried reading the poem to some of my peers in an intimate setting. I also gave them some dough to play with while listening. Feedback from them was that me reading the poem from a piece of paper was a bit of a barrier and also means I don’t make as much eye contact as I could.
So this brings me to storytelling. I was wondering if I had it in me to create a story around a girl being cut and remember it during a short performance. So I am going to explore this hopefully with the help of a professional storyteller. I have got in touch with the storytelling centre in Edinburgh for a recommendation…………
One of the earliest collages was done by Hannah Hoch in 1919. Its called “Cut with the kitchen knife through the beer belly of the Weimar Republic”
Mackie, who I share a studio with at college is prolific at collaging. There are these big collages all over the walls which made me think I would like to try some collaging. One of the ideas for my FGM work is to make some posters around the myths and beliefs that women are told to coerce them into being cut. Here is my first attempt:
I am doing another textile collaboration, this time with Julie Fielding. We decided on a skirt, the sort that opens up with a flap at the front with a hidden panel, the analogy being that FGM is ‘hidden and taboo’ and even in the cultures where it is practiced, it is often not allowed to be talked about openly. I still liked the idea of it looking like evening wear and picked a purple satin material with white satin lining .
Fot the FGM information, I am moving away from the WHO illustrations and have been looking for something more symbolic. Below are some worked symbols and writing with the sewing machine.
I am just going to start my second year of my MFA and a few ideas for work this year around FGM might be:
1. Trying to draw together the strands of all my work with FGM incorporating a visit down to Forward in London
2. Concentrate more on the beliefs and untruths that girls believe about FGM by using posters with the title and an image.
3. Make some sculptures with wax or clay or something more fragile but they will be symbolic only of the different types of FGM.
The FGM dress is on its way now. Jen Urch, a 4th year textile student has made it for me as a collaboration piece. We decided on a patchwork design with FGM illustrations in-between. I am just waiting to do a small photo shoot wearing it and sometime over the next three semesters, it will get an outing somewhere social. Maybe like an opening night.
Diversion Exhibition & Open Studios
DJCAD May 2016
While the DJCAD undergraduate show was on, the MFA, Art, Society & Publics decided to have a work in progress exhibition where we showed some of our work in our exhibition space and opened up our studios to the public. I showed my FGM dress ( the prototype) and printed out a poem called ‘The Cut’ on hand made paper. This poem is a very distressing and difficult open to read about FGM but for the brave people that read it, it really made them stop and think. If I manage that in an exhibition, I have achieved something.
The open studios were a great way for the public to come and see work in progress and talk to us about our work and about the course. I did some really good networking some days!
Where Our Minds Are Now: International Womens Day 2016 Exhibition
The Tin Roof Arts Collective, Dundee
4th March to 9th March 2016
I was really pleased to be able to show my work at the above exhibition. It was the first time in a few years since I had shown anything about F.G.M. I decided to show ‘Kwifebe’ my carved wooden mask based on the initiation masks used by the Songe tribe, Democratic Republic of Congo, my dot to dot poster and the sound piece, a 2min recoding of an African woman reading a passage from Waris Dirie’s book, Desert Flower.
An FGM Dress
I was looking at some of Grayson Perrys work and one in particular where he made one of his gorgeous frocks and covered it in his usual phallic symbols which made me think about making an FGM dress. So using the standard technical looking diagram for FGM types, I got Norrie in Textiles to print it onto the nicest, shiniest satin cotton he had. I made a prototype dress using a Simplicity dress pattern. This is itself was a challenge, I have never made a dress in my life before!!
I am deciding whether this concept works. It is about FGM being a hidden agenda, and also whats behind it? The dress looks pretty but it shows a horrific practice. The idea is to get a textile student to make me one with african fabric on the front. It will be a very feminine design. This is intentional as victims of FGM have lost their most feminine parts so its important to restore these losses in any way possible.
The other possibility is to use african fabric embedded with the FGM diagrams, just as FGM is embedded in the African culture. Below is a swatch of fabric as an example of how it might look.
I also made a small skirt out of calico fabric and on it I stitched some of the beliefs and untruths that surround FGM. The font is one I downloaded from the internet – it is a five year old font, the age at which some girls are mutilated.