art against fgm
On the eve of their one-night exhibition Female Matters i-D meets Polyester zine editor Ione Gamble and designer Clio Peppiatt to talk sexual liberation and FGM.
With feminism in the spotlight more than ever, clever creatives are finding a way to ride the wave of popularity to affect some real change. Step up Polyester zine and womenswear designer Clio Peppiatt, who have joined forces to co-curate a one-night exhibition, Female Matters. Bringing together collectives, charities, model agencies and magazines from Felicity Hayward to Charlotte Mei and Eleanor Hardwick, the night will celebrate sexual liberation and raise awareness of female genital mutilation and funds for London-based FGM support charity The Dahlia Project.
When and why did you start Polyester?
Ione: I started Polyester in 2014. We were just sick of other magazines and how they were portraying the internet generation. Designers like Meadham Kirchoff and Ashley Williams and artists like Arvida [http://arvidabystrom.se] were being portrayed as fun and kitsch but no one was talking about the ideas behind their designs.
How did you meet each other?
Clio: Polyester did a feature on my work in the first issue...
Ione: ...and then we just made friends.
What sparked the decision to co-curate an exhibition that would also have a cause behind it?
Clio: When I had the idea for the exhibition I was telling Ione about it.
Ione: We found ourselves talking about how online journalism and clickbait journalism led to a lot of thinkpieces about 'is Miley Cyrus a feminist icon?' 'Is Beyonce really a feminist?' Well, it doesn't matter. We should be doing something now that feminism is 'popular' to make changes. So we thought an exhibition would be a nice way to raise awareness for a cause that we believed in.
Why did you choose to fight this women's issue - female genital mutilation - in particular?
Clio: My mum is an art curator and when I was small we used to go to [Portugese artist] Paula Rego's studio. She did a series about FGM - really beautiful etchings of girls with a galaxy under their skirts. I fell in love with them and I remember saying to my mum: What's it about? My mum's a very liberal, open lady but she didn't want to tell me what FGM was and why it happens. Later on I thought it's so important for us to talk about it, but people do shy away from it because they think it's a bit of a gnarly subject.
Ione: I went to the Women of the World festival in March and there was an FGM panel. I sort of had the same thoughts. I was surprised about how many government and policy changes have been initiated, but in our peer group or the world of fashion/art/culture it's not really something that ever comes up, even when we're talking about women's issues.
What significance does the exhibition name 'Female Matters' have for you?
Clio: It's got the two connotations: not just female issues, but that women are important and all women matter. One thing we discovered when thinking about FGM is that it's quite race orientated. Maybe it would have a little bit more attention if it was white women this was happening to.
With Polyester's ethos stemming from the digital world and the zine being a printed product IRL, how do you reconcile those worlds with the world of FGM?
Ione: I think at the end of the day with the internet, women's issues are world issues there are no borders, there are no boundaries.
Clio: People don't realise how much of an issue it is in the UK - it's not something far away, but they just don't associate it with being close to home.
But obviously it is, because The Dahlia Project is here for UK-based survivors. How did you find out about this charity?
Clio: Leyla Hussein who started The Dahlia Project has a documentary called The Cruel Cut. It's a really moving, difficult documentary to watch. She's had a campaign against FGM for years.
What was the most eye-opening thing you saw in the documentary?
Clio: A lot of the time in the documentary she'd meet people and they wouldn't know what FGM is. There's a really frightening bit where she asks people to sign a petition to keep FGM just to see if they'll do it because she says a lot of the problem is that people think it's linked to religion (which it isn't), but also culture, so they tread carefully around it because they don't want to be disrespectful to another culture. She got 30 signatures in 20 minutes to keep FGM, which is just scary. She cries afterwards.
Aside from awareness and legislation, what will be the turning point for FGM?
Ione: There's an association called The Girl Generation and the reason they're called that is because it can stop with one generation. Once it doesn't happen to your daughter, your daughter then won't pass it down to her daughter. So it only takes one generation to break the tradition and then it can stop forever. Everyone thinks now's the time that that can happen.
Female Matters 4th June, Box Studios 1-3 French Place, Shoreditch. Artworks: £60 to £150. Smaller items available to purchase on a donation basis.
Text Katie Jane Rose