a history of feminist posters 1974-1990

Alone we are powerless… Together we are stronger.

by Matthew Whitehouse
08 February 2017, 9:16pm

We first heard about the very good Village bookshop through Our Man in the North Adam Murray. Adam, of course, has recently co-curated the essential North exhibition at Liverpool's Open Eye Gallery, but before that he was plying his wares at independent publishing fair Offprint 2016, showcasing a series of new releases from a whole host of talented people who just so happen to live outside of the M25.

To cut a long story short, Adam told us about this amazing bookshop in Thornton's Arcade, Leeds (it's a bookshop not a bookstore which we appreciate) who then, in a lovely twist of fate, got in touch last week to say they were doing an exhibition on the feminist posters of female-led print collective See Red Women's Workshop and would we like to write something about it? Well, we love it when a plan comes together, readers, and, against the backdrop of a misogynist in the White House and thousands of brilliant, vocal women taking to the streets in subsequent outrage, what better time to showcase the enduring power of the feminist protest poster anyway?

Created by See Red Women's Workshop between 1974 and 1990, the works are a great introduction to a group who have, over two decades of activity, continued to question the role of women in society, combating negative images and creating challenging alternatives. Immediate, urgent and as powerful as the day they were printed, they are, as the good people of Village put it, "a reminder of how far we've come and how far we still have to go". Ahead of the exhibition launch tomorrow evening (8 February), we had a chat with them to see what it's all about. 

Hello Village. Who are See Red Women's Workshop then?
See Red Women's Workshop are a female-led print collective founded in 1973 by three ex-art students born out of a shared interest to combat the negative images of women in advertising and the media. Over nearly two decades the group produced silk screened posters for the women's liberation movement, initially reflecting their own personal experiences as women. Over the years they also produced posters for community groups as well as radical and alternative movements. Some 45 women passed through the workshop during its lifetime. The group worked collectively throughout the entire process from initial idea, through to design and finally to print. No one individual took credit for the work. We first learned about them reading the book recently published by Four Corners Books, which presents a complete archive of the workshop's output, and contacted them straight away about putting an exhibition together.

Why is now an important time to be doing it?
The exhibition is a reminder of how far we've come and how far we still have to go in terms of gender equality. The issues addressed by these posters are as relevant today as they've ever been, especially in light of recent events. It's like there's been this global paradigm shift that seriously threatens to undo everything that's been accomplished. It's important that we celebrate the voices that speak out against oppression. As long as male aggression is given a platform in politics, this work will continue to be as important as ever.

Do you think there's a link between crisis and creativity?
Absolutely, I think that art is about communicating ideas. People create art in order to interpret their experiences and share their viewpoint with others in a way that's accessible. Crisis can definitely be a catalyst for that. Art offers a means for people to confront crisis and for the anger and frustration they feel to manifest itself as something positive.

What are some of the consistent themes within the posters?
The posters confront a wide range of gender struggles, focussing on the battle for change. They look at social expectations of domesticity and motherhood, tackle themes on intersectionality and race as well as providing information about sexual health and contraception. There's a lot of bold graphics and humour throughout the posters - the majority of the posters offer positive messages.

What do you hope people take away from the exhibition?
I think it's an opportunity to celebrate the posters as pieces of design as well as present their messages to a new audience. Hopefully the posters will inspire people to tackle gender politics creatively, and to celebrate women and their power!

Feminist Posters 1974-1990 opens Thursday 9 February, 6pm - 9pm at Village, Leeds. The exhibition runs until 12 March 2017.


Text Matthew Whitehouse

women's march
see red women's workshop