This body of work aims to raise the visibility of women in the market town of Walsall. It was made when I was a Bursary Artist in Walsall as part of the Living Memory Project. What happens if there is no archive to work with? Can a living archive be constructed?
I am interested in bringing together and celebrating the collective community of women of Walsall. When I speak of community I am thinking about what Benedict Anderson (1983) refers to as an ‘imagined community’. He describes an ‘imagined community’, as a social construct of people who perceive themselves as part of a group with similar interests or those who collectively identify with each other, despite the fact they may never meet face to face. Anderson uses this term as a way of defining ‘nation’, however it seems to equally apply to members of a localised community, who have self-defined notions of belonging. In the case of the Women of Walsall project, this includes women who live in Walsall, women who work in Walsall, women who study in Walsall, women who play in Walsall, women born and bred to Walsall and women who have migrated to Walsall, for any number of reasons. What these women have in common is a sense of belonging to Walsall.
To do this over 120 portraits have been made of local women during the Living Memory, bursary residency in Walsall. This was facilitated in partnership with Walsall for All a subsidiary of Walsall council to access community groups across the city. A pop-up photography studio was set up in several community spaces and in exchange for a family portrait, project participants agreed that their portrait can be used in the WoW project. Alongside of this I took a deep dive into Walsall Archives to investigate how women are visualised within the Archive. This process has revealed photographs of women and labour, this includes machine girls (to use the archival reference), women stitching leather in the leather factory, glove makers, the local swimming team and historical figures such as Sister Dora, Ada Newman who was the first female councillor, Edna Hughes an Olympic swimmer, Gertrude Creswell, the first female Mayor.
The film is conceived to present back in the community in an accessible public space. The portraits made, alongside of a selection of archival photographs, were presented through out the day at the Raising her Voice International Women’s Day event 2020, at the Crossing, St Pauls, Walsall. It worked as a jigsaw of female focused events through out the day, including a variety of stalls and workshops. In addition, in the evening a panel of inspirational female speakers, chaired by Caroline, shared their stories. The work was then exhibited at New Art Gallery Walsall as part of the Living Memory Project.