Tag Archives: women

Painting, prisons and penal reform

Some thoughtful and attention-grabbing images on display this week at The Big Issues exhibition, a project that forms part of prison outreach work at Surrey’s recently restored Watts Gallery.

Peace on Earth, Louise HMP Send

The exhibition is the result of the Compton-based gallery’s Art for All project. The outreach scheme involves artist-led workshops with inmates in prisons including Send and Coldingly in Surrey and Bronzefield in Middlesex – the pieces featured here are by female offenders at Send and Bronzefield.

Everyone Deserves A Chance, Amanda HMP Bronzefield

The inclusive arts project is in keeping with the beliefs of the gallery’s namesake, Victorian artist George Frederic Watts. Watts and his artist wife Mary Watts supported penal and social reform, believing in widening access to art, using the medium to benefit individuals and the community and arguing against prejudice towards ex-offenders. The couple’s aim of transforming lives through encouraging the socially excluded to engage with art underlines the gallery’s current outreach work.

Mother and Child, Juliet HMP Bronzefield

Art for All aims to build confidence and self-worth in people usually deemed socially excluded – prisoners, young offenders, addicts, and those with mental health issues or experiencing homelessness housing. One former prisoner at HMP Send, for example, was released before Christmas and been accepted on a foundation course at Brighton University. Another participant described the project as “some light in the dull, grey prison world”.

Rehabilitation through art can provoke controversy and the Watts gallery scheme is by no means unique, but with prison numbers at a record high and a proven reoffending rate of 26%, the value of projects like this is clear.

The exhibition is on until Sunday.

The cuts: the worst is yet to come

An authoritative analysis in today’s Society Guardian of the deepest spending cuts in a generation, which start from Friday. The special issue inludes some sector by sector breakdowns of savings and job losses, including pieces I contributed to the in-depth coverage.

Putting an ‘oh’ into OAP

Given the scrap heap syndrome surrounding ageing women, how refreshing to nod to the centenary of International Women’s Day with a photographic project that shatters the stereotypes of older women. In fact, some of the glorious images I’ve been looking at (below), not only shatter the stereotype, but pick up the splinters and waggle them defiantly into the faces of those with age prejudice.

Hermi, 85, above and below: “I don’t really feel like an older woman, even when I’m hobbling about because my knee has got arthritis in it.”

A series of exhibitions entitled Look at me! Images of Women and Ageing opens in Sheffield today, part of a joint project by the universities of Sheffield and Derby, cultural development agency Eventus and photographer Rosy Martin.

The project asked how older women feel about their public representation and the series of exhibitions in Sheffield feature images by local women. The women took part in workshops to create new and alternative images using photography, art therapy and video techniques. The workshops revealed not only how women feel silenced later in life, but how common it is for older women to feel pressure to deny ageing and or feel their sexuality marginalised.

Take one participant, 57-year-old Shirley (is 57 really that old, by the way?) who, when asked to pick an object to represent herself, chose a red high heeled shoe. She recently bought a red sports car to match her shoes: “The car and the shoes are things that aren’t safe, aren’t comfortable but are still part of me because there’s still that bit of me that has a bit of fire and sparkle… Yes, there’s the part of me that’s ageing, there’s a part of me that’s falling to bits but there’s this other bit and this car represents that.”

Shirley, 57, above: “There’s still that bit of me that has a bit of fire and sparkle”.

Shirley, who had a career in business management, wanted to participate because she was aware that she was entering a transition period and feared that these life changes signalled “the beginning of the end.”

Another participant, Hermi, 85, says: “I know I’m 85 so I know I am classed as an old woman. But I don’t really feel like an older woman, even when I’m hobbling about because my knee has got arthritis in it.”

If age brings widsom, then Hermi proves this by sharing a firecracker of a life lesson; the advantage of being an older woman is the freedom which accompanies age. Somehow, though, her own words pack a characteristically better punch: “If I want to wear a sleeveless top, I shall wear a sleeveless top and if my bra bothers me, I shall bloody take it off. That’s it. I mean there’s got to be a silver lining in everything, the silver lining in old age is that you can do what you like and nobody can tell you any different.”

To find out more about the ‘Look at Me! Images of Women and Ageing’ project and the free exhibitions, visit the website

Women, know your politics

Uncovered from The Original Ranch on Vimeo.

Above, ‘Uncovered’, a short animated film inspired by women’s attitudes to community, participation and politics.

The best ideas are, usually, the most simple ones. That’s one reason I’m a fan of a new project called Politics Uncovered, a community-based attempt to demystify politics for women.

Working on the premise that a) women are still woefully underrepresented in politics and b) very few people know even the basics of democracy and government, social enterprise arts organisation The Original Ranch has produced an event that is something of a beginners guide to politics.

The Original Ranch recorded women’s views about community, participation and politics during several discussion groups last year. It used the material to create a short animated film (above) which, along with a basic lesson in the workings of government, constitutes the event Politics Uncovered. The lesson explains the key structures at national and local levels, describes the main players and their roles, and gives participants an opportunity to ask questions.

The first Politics Uncovered event at the end of November involved around 30 women from London, all political novices who wanted to find out more about government issues.

According to Olivia Bellas, founder of The Original Ranch, what makes the project unique is that it is a free and accessible ‘lesson’ in politics, presented in a non-politicised environment (the launch event was at the Women’s Library in east London and offered a crèche facility) and it offers interactive and creative approaches to learning.

Put simply, if you want a beginners guide to politics, delivered in an informative but interesting way, look no further.

“Politics can be quite difficult to grasp; there are many different players, institutions, mechanisms, and formalities,” says Bellas, “and so it is hardly surprising that many people may not fully understand it”.

Although there is as yet no formal evaluation, Bellas says that anecdotal evidence from participants reveals
an increased knowledge of and interest in politics and a feeling of empowerment.

The quirky template used in Politics Uncovered could be used to raise awareness of all sorts of social issues in communities, in a visually appealing way that participants find neither too intimidating nor too condescending. I’m interested to see how the project evolves in 2011.

Wonder women and why we need them

For me, it was an eclectic yet potent combination of Wonder Woman, Kate Adie, Blue Peter’s Janet Ellis and Margot Fonteyn. Although I’ve yet to perform an arabesque while reporting from the frontline and deflecting bullets armed with nothing but golden bracelets and a roll of sticky backed plastic, I did at least pick some interesting female role models when I was growing up.

While it’s unfair to say that today’s girls and young women only dream of becoming reality tv stars, pop singers or footballers’ arm candy, it’s usually the case that the most successful women in the public eye tend to be very famous, very rich and very thin.

Campaigners at Pink Stinks are doing much to champion real, strong female role models who are “inspirational, important, ground-breaking and motivating” and today a new drive is launched to ensure that younger generations also have a range of professional female figures to look up to.

The business group everywoman has created the Modern Muse drive to inspire and engage the female business leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow by showcasing successful women in business. Although the majority are women in business and the private sector, there are – admirably – several powerful female role models from the public sector such as former Nurse of the Year Grace Vanterpool and Gill Evans, one of the country’s most senior policewomen.

Karen Gill, co-founder everywoman says: “Younger women today tend to have a strong focus on celebrity role models and we want them to be exposed to a much broader canvas, to women who have built businesses or are working in major organisations, whose lives are equally glamorous in very many ways.”

Modern Muse project aims to reach a million young women and girls over the next three years, to inspire and motivate them to look at business careers and entrepreneurship. The project will showcase stories of real women “whose experiences encompass ambition, passion, success and failure; showing that business is fulfilling and can also be fun and rewarding”. Many of the Muses will speak at community events and in schools, with the aim of nurturing female talent and encouraging women to start, own, run and grow companies.

Grace Vanterpool says: “Some of the role models that young women aspire to can be linked to their cultural or ethnic background and parental influences. Many young women in African Caribbean community aspire to become professional ‘divas’ and mothers – we seem to be less focused on getting involved in business. This may be due to the fact that there are not many successful business women who could become mentors to women from the African Caribbean community, and also to promote the benefits of setting and running a business.”

Vanterpool got involved with Modern Muse she wants her experience to inspire other women “to be the best that they can become”. She recalls, for example, that among the most patronising comments she’s had over the years are those that downplay her role. “Comments such as I am “only a nurse “, brought on by the perception that doctors who are predominantly male are usually the ones seen in senior leadership roles like mine.”

Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Gill Evans says her motto is “it is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.” She adds: “I feel passionate about inspiring the next generation of young women and girls to succeed whether it be in business or the public sector. I recall a number of times that I just needed to talk or run an idea past someone but couldn’t for fear of being seen as weak. I think that it is important that we continue to encourage young women and girls at every opportunity that they can reach their goals/aspiration regardless of their career choice.”

Modern Muse is launched with the publication of a book and a photographic exhibition by Mary McCartney. The book and exhibition focus on 100 inspirational female entrepreneurs and business women, personifying the ‘Modern Muse’.