I was born in London but moved continually between London, Wales and Leicester. I spent some time in foster care, and as a young child lived abandoned by my mother and her partner on a field at the bottom of Cader Idris mountain. In 2000 I decided to settle in Wales.

My most recent works explore the complex inter-relationships between the female gender and the world; examining female-ness as subjected by the male gaze in both a wider-world context, and within the domestic sphere.

This lens exposes the cultural conditioning and socially ingrained objectification of females from birth, inside and out of a family unit.

I am interested in personal experience and the human condition, and how that effects culturally-set boundaries within gender. I am fascinated with the friction found between identity, culture and individuality.

My practice is multidisciplinary with a strong sense of narrative. Most recently my work attempts to expose and retell ‘her-story’, over-ruling the past and present cultural guidelines of what was important and upheld.

I hope to use the time in the Cardiff Arcade basement studio to contemplate, research and to make. To focus my energy on this friction of truth, personal experience, culture, gender and binary boundaries. To discover material and form within a narrative and subject of gender, binary, object and body.

 


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I was lucky enough to witness the production ‘We’re still here’ at the National Theatre Wales. The performance was truly breathtaking and awe-inspiring; shadows of history shouting defiantly from their unemployed graves. The production in its entirety was emotive and I found myself in real tears when contemplating their frustrating and unfair reality.

I felt the pride, the grind, the stab in the back. I left with a real sense of understanding and empathy.

National theatre Wales

https://www.nationaltheatrewales.org/were-still-here

 

At one point during the production, a steel worker called out to a noise over what looked like waste land. We the viewer could see it was children playing in the distance – whistling, taunting him. A young girl stood right front of the man. Only inches from his face and whistled again. He looked through her, unable to see her. I understood the narrative. It was a whistle from the future. A future that the steel worker couldn’t see. A literal image that the future resembled this invisible child. However, I saw more than a child. I saw a girl. I found it ironic that the whole production only told one half of the story but used a young girl to whistle. I felt that it was a girl that was invisible as well as the future prospect of the steel industries children.

 

I told a friend of my frustration in the absence of women in this brilliantly told perspective. She stated confidently that ‘of course it’s about men. It’s the steel industry.’ So I thought to myself, could the steel industry exist without the woman? Did it not effect women? Was the woman’s story the same and so not needed?

 

The play did present some nods to the marginalized women of this past. It was in the form of a song: IDLES – Mother, which in its lyrics acknowledges the torrent of work done by mum. There was also reference to the wife indoors. It was also in the real names that were read out like in a memorial where women were amongst the fallen. It was interesting to later find out ‘Far from being male only, some 40% of the workforce at Tata’s Port Talbot site are women’ (Wales online).

I wish that in this brilliant tale of the past, it didn’t once again marginalize the woman and told the full story.

 

This feeling and frustration at how women are represented in history was enforced when I took a visit to the The Big Pit. I am not from a mining background, and I can feel this reality even more when I am around friends that are. It can feel a little rich trying to talk from shoes I have never walked in. However, I took a trip to the Big Pit. The gravity of the sight instantly affected me. The history seemed to bleed from the earth that I stood on. I was asked upon arrival if I wanted to go underground. I took this lightly and didn’t understand the realty of what I had agreed to.

 

I waited with a class of primary children to take the tour underground. Slowly it became apparent what I was queuing up for. A man took us all into another room to be kitted up. Then I saw the cage. I honestly argued with myself that I didn’t need to go down, I didn’t need the experience of a lift into earth. I had pictures, I had imagination.

Big Pit mining equipment

 

I had very mixed feelings about this excursion. It was clearly a male dominant space I was walking into. The room where we, the children and 2 female teachers, congregated was full of men, men who were ex-miners. There seemed to be an inside joke that we were not privy to. I felt instantly vulnerable and was soon to be the butt of a joke. I was asked to lift both arms in ready-ness for my belt which contained oxygen and other equipment. I was subsequently asked to drop both arms and realized with the sounds of chuckles echoing around the room that the arm raise was merely for fun. I feel that this play was meant in good nature, but in sight of the cage I was not in a joking mood.

 

I was also told that phones, watches etc where not permitted down the mine. I asked where to put them and was told in my bag. I asked where to put my bag and was asked to keep hold of it. This routine was repeated with each man I passed until I was at the cage mouth.  I was asked again if I had a watch, phone etc. I answered yes I did. I was told again that I couldn’t take them down. So I asked where to put my bag that had all of these things inside. I was answered with ‘I thought you lot could mulit-task.’  The teachers either side of me smiled. I looked at the mix class of boys and girls and wondered to myself how empowering would this visit be for the girls.

 

It was time to get in the cage. It was claustrophobic and I found it incredibly frightening. The cage was closed and we went down for what felt like forever. It got darker and darker until our lights became the only light.

 

Once in the pit the cage opened and we spilled out. We were met with black walls braced open with wood. We were introduced to the widow maker, where the pit ponies lived and coal carts. When our tour guide was asked by a 9-year-old girl ‘who pushed the carts?’ The answer was ‘women’. Brilliant! I thought. ‘But they were stopped in 1842, too much talking’, he jokes, but continues, ‘they were stopped by the same man that stopped boys going up chimneys.’  And that was the last mention of women, with the exception of washing men’s clothes in the 2004 years of The Big Pit’s history, let alone the decades and decades of Welsh mining history that can date back to the Roman times.

 

I know that whole families worked alongside each other, all with their jobs, their part to play in the industrial thrust for coal. Women worked bare-breasted, pulled and pushed the coal carts with young lads. Small children, boys and girls, some as young as 4 controlled the ventilation doors.  They earned enough food to starve and didn’t last much past the age of 25.  When women were thrown out of the mines and prevented from earning whatever living they could, they worked illegally, some even pretending to be men in order to get in the mines. And when they couldn’t get in any longer, they worked on the surface sorting, moving, lifting coal bags over their backs for hours a day in the bitter cold exposed to the harsh winter elements. If they were not at the surface, they worked in domestic labor sleeping an hour after the world had gone to bed and rising an hour before the world woke. The work was endless and with childbirth, babies, marriage and death alongside. All aspects of work done by women that was highlighted by Elizabeth Andrews. The chance to tell the story of Elizabeth Andrews regarding mining history was missed, even when at the pit head showers, the opportunity was sadly and ruthlessly over looked.

Big Pit pithead showers

 

We were shown the horrors of the ‘widow maker’, its title and its row of sharp stone-cutting teeth stole our imagination and filled our minds with the nightmare that was. I wonder if but one of those stories of women could have spilled out our guides lips. If he even knew them. And I feel that if he did know those stories I feel that he would have told them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Training starts early/Ain’t I A Woman

 

This morning I listened to a discussion on BBC 1 Breakfast regarding the inclusion of women on the front line in the RAF. The argument ‘for’ was strong and upheld by Durham’s chief of police. Although stating that he was not and never had been part of the army, he had seen only positivity from the many years of women serving on the front line for police. Naga responded with a blatantly sexist comment hidden under the cloak of devil’s advocate:

 

‘It is said that men are distracted by the need to protect the weaker sex.’ She corrects herself, ‘physically weaker sex.’

 

It is this attitude and opinion that has frustrated women for years. This assumption of weakness, of tenderness; a screaming scared woman unable to lift her gun. Are backpacks and camouflage tarpaulin being laid over trench puddles for women soldiers to pass over?

 

The speech Ain’t I A Woman by Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) screams in my ear. These cultural standards that contain and inhibit the ability of women never made it to the slave trade or the cotton fields. Nor does it recognize that women have been on the front line for many war stricken years all over the world, defending their family from the war at their doors, and their bodies from rape, only a recently acknowledged as a war weapon.

 

The story of Ann Bonny and Mary Read spring positively to mind. Both women were brought up as boys when children, either to hide the father’s illegitimate affair with servants or for funding from a family that thought their nephew was still alive.

 

Once adult, both women found it impossible to conform to the restraints of the woman’s role in society. Mary Read ran off to join the army under a fake name and under the guise of a male; and Anne, after rejecting the marriage set up by her father, fled with a man of her choosing and became one of the world’s most notorious pirates in the golden age of piracy. Later, Mary Read joined Anne Bonny on the ship and they were known to have fought harder than any man. Indeed, Anne Bonny reportedly put a man in hospital for 3 days when defending herself from a sexually motivated attack.

 

Their piracy reign ended upon the capture of Anne and Mary and the ship’s crew. Ann and Mary were left to single handedly defend their ship from capture as the men slept below becks too intoxicated to fight. Subsequently they were all caught, once in prison awaiting their fate Anne Bonny stated to her captain ‘If you had fought like a man, you wouldn’t hang like a dog.’

 

With these empowering recordings of women rejecting conformity, I expected a celebration highlighting the defiance in the write-up of their history. This was not the case. The final sentence that told Anne’s story in the National Maritime Museum,

stated that Anne after her capture was released and ‘became a respectable woman’, marrying a local man and mothering her 8 children. This ideal of what is a respectable woman, the measure of what is good- the mother, the wife, the compliant, I feel with the omission of contradictory history like Anne Bonny, or the mining industry’s domestic life in Wales, builds the walls that control cultural expectations on the woman.

 

Cultural training starts early. Pink is the first sign and it points us to everything that is ‘ours’. Like the pink tea set that I had as a child. The pink tea set I bought my daughter and which we played with most mornings at making and serving tea. These games uphold the serve, mother, nurture, feed, ideal. Yet this is a game I never played with my sons.

 

I wonder. If I had known, like they did in the mining valleys of Wales, that that kettle used to be made of cast iron, that it was lifted 100’s of times each day filled with scalding water that took the skin off themselves and off their babies. I wonder, that if I knew the serving started one hour before each man rose, and ended one hour after the last man rested whether I would have encouraged it so. If I knew to serve someone else puts yourself second or last in the queue of much needed food, rest, sleep. That serving and being last meant death from malnutrition, starvation, and sleep deprivation.

I wonder if that play tea set was cast in the reality of iron, would it ever be played with?

 


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Everyday sexism, everyday omission of herstory. ‘nid byd, byd heb wybodaeth’ (1991, Aaron & Rees)

A customer tweeted her frustrations at the everyday sexism and gender stereo types on children’s clothing recently.

“Looking 4 kids’ holiday clothes this morning at Morrisons. Didn’t buy anything. I see you don’t think much of girls”

The slogans and statements on the t-shirts promote that boys have big ideas and that girls have big smiles, that boys are kings, and girls are pretty.

The continuation and perpetuating of female derogatory gender ideals of pretty girls in comparison to clever boys arguably impacts on not only the way boys look and feel towards girls, but also how girls feel about their place in the world. The message of pretty and little girls transcends though to adult, with perfume adverts that show grown women braiding each other’s hair, dressed in white vintage clothing, appearing innocent, playing with other grown up women in a field full of daisies on a rope swing. Or a well-known yogurt advert where the dialog and mannerisms of the actress could easily be played by a 6-year-old child, “opps giggle giggle”.

Everyday sexism along with the omission of female history arguably plays into this male fantasied ideal of women. If the true story of woman can be hidden and a fake misrepresentation of woman told, this arguably undermines women’s career aspirations and future life goals. I feel that herstory has never been so important as it today.

The recent televised program ‘When football banned women’ by Clair Balding, revealed a history that I and my fellow women peers new nothing about. I as a child was a keen footballer, as was my sister who played for Crystal Palace under 16s. I wonder if this untold, uncelebrated history of successful women’s football had been mainstreamed as male history is in football, would our progression into the sport have been supported as more than a hobby to grow out of? If we had female footballer role models, would we look up to them as we did the men? A path walked is easier to follow.

Recently my daughter was involved in a school project where they were writing letters as if they were in the 2nd World War. The letters were to demonstrate their understanding of true accounts of real life during this hard time in British history. However, my daughter was asked to pretend to be a boy solder. I asked her if this was part of the role play, did everyone have different roles with in the war setting? She replied no, just the girls in my class have to be boys because girls didn’t fight in the war. I wondered, is this what we tell our girls? That they had no place in the war, no voice, no representation, no account of their experience during the war. I wondered further, is this the case with all history. Is there a female voice in our past?

I had become interested in Welsh mining history since the research into Elizabeth Andrews. The more I read, the more I become frustrated, but equally the more I felt empowered.

‘nid byd, byd heb wybodaeth’ a quote I found in ‘Our Sisters Land’. (1991, Aaron & Rees)

translated: ‘a world without knowledge is no world.’

I have been reading Struggle or Starve edited by Carol White & Sian Rhiannon Williams. This is a collection of inspiring heroic stories told by women in the time of 1918 – 1939. One of the chapters in the book is dedicated to the stories of little mothers. This is a term I had never heard of, but one that was evident in my own life. My sister was a little mother. Once my mother left, my sister took to her role as best she could at the tender age of 11. My farther worked nights and drank heavily in the day. I remember the Christmas dinner attempt. Chicken/ham slices, chips as roast potatoes, tinned peas and carrots, stuffing, Tesco own gravy and strawberry jam. It did taste just like Christmas dinner.

Reading about these little mothers of our past, taking the place of their own dead mothers, walking in cold footprints with no space to mourn completely overwhelmed me. I wanted to honor them, to remember them, to recognize my sister for her sacrifice but also the past. The chores and responsibility that fell on these tiny backs, at the cost of their own future.

I started sculpting a little mother of my own.  She currently lies partially sculpted on a table, preserved in plastic in the basement. I shall make her strong, as she must have been, I will make her skinny as she would have had little to eat, and I will bow her legs as rickets was common.

 

 

 


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Are we as a society assisting sexism and gender inequality by the omission and exclusion of our female history?

?While watching X Men First Class with the family last night I asked my daughter if she could think of a female character within the film that didn’t remove their clothes in any of the scenes. We both soon discovered that there wasn’t one. My daughter for a moment couldn’t see the problem until we put the same question to the male characters with a very different answer.

Similarly, while shopping for my son for his birthday, I fully prepared to be irritated by the science toys for boys and nail varnish maker equivalent for girls; brain dissection for boys and lip-gloss maker equivalent for girls; explore, adventure, super-hero slogans on boys t-shirts and pretty princess, unicorn equivalent for girls. Sadly, the list goes on.

But it was a Mothercare image published this year of what appeared to be a young girl dressed up in 1950’s clothing pushing cleaning paraphernalia really took my breath away.

(MotherCare 2017)

Recently within my current role I have been promoting the Arts within schools in Carmarthenshire. I actively ask every child what their GCSE choices were. depressingly, I am aware that the Welsh Baccalaureate qualification has made GCSE choices harder for young teens by putting PE, Art, Music, and now vocational subjects in the same choice column. Thus choice is massively restricted.

However, I was astounded by how popular as a subject Hair and Beauty has become for girls in retrospect to other creative and practical subjects. One pupil stated that she chose Hair and Beauty over sport because ‘at least she would get a job out of it.’ I wondered if she knew the story of Lily Parr who played for the most successful women’s team of all time called the Dick Kerr Ladies. ‘Parr played against both male and female teams and she reputedly had a harder shot than any male player’ (national football museum,2017) The team drew large crowds and in December 1920 attracted a crowd of 53,000 at Goodison Park and in the same year played in the first ever recognized women’s international between England and France.

Women’s football grew in popularity until in 1921 when the Football Association banned women from playing on their member grounds. I wonder if she knew of Lily Parr, would she still choose hair and beauty? Are we marketing sport for girls in the same way as the Tour de France where the only representation of a woman is a podium girl congratulating the male victors with a kiss?

During a recent research project when I was a resident artist for The Welsh Arts Review I learned of a woman named Amy Dillwyn. History was written that Dillwyn was ‘doomed to a life of abnegation’ when her fiancé died of smallpox and ‘despaired of leading a worthwhile life’ (Alison Favre, 2009). She is recognized as having single-handedly saved her family’s spelter works business from bankruptcy, and was also a novelist.

History is being rewritten by Professor Kirsti Bohata. She tells a very different story where Amy Dillwyn was in love with another woman for most of her life, a woman she later referred to as her wife. In her novels, Dillwyn championed women as the protagonist heroine in her novels and wrote of their same-sex desires. In society, she wore men-ish clothes and definitely did not want to marry.

I wonder, if Dillwyn’s story was told in accuracy, whether women would feel more empowered today? Would the toy aisle still be so gender separate and derogatory towards girls? Would my own daughter have had such problems with her own gender growing up had the steps taken by women such as Amy Dilwyn had not been covered over by a patriarchal society intent on oppressing its female other?

Iron On The Dress 2017 (in response to Amy Dillwyn’s life and fiction) Mandy Lane

 Are we as a society assisting sexism and gender inequality by the omission and exclusion of our female history?

On a recent project responding to Dyffryn Gardens, I learned about the mining and colliery industry upon which the Gardens were built. When investigating this history, I was bombarded with images of the men down the mines; of small boys blackened with coal dust; of bodies that were crumpled and bludgeoned following the too regular collapse of shafts. Later there are images of the men at the picket lines and young man under the polices truncheon.

After a period of time considering these images, I began to wonder where the women were. Professor Bohata gave me a paper entitled Counting the Cost of Coal: Women’s Lives in the Rhondda, 1881-1911 by Dot Jones.

As a Welsh woman who lived in Wales I had never heard the history I was reading in the paper. I had never heard of Elizabeth Andrews nor the need for pit-head showers. In response to this discovery, the sculpture I created was entitled Elizabeth Andrews’ To-Do Pile 2017.

However, I felt that the pile was never big enough, nor ever could be to do the narrative justice. Eventually, the figure of the baby was removed by the garden staff as it reportedly caused offence to some visitors.

I found this upsetting, my memorial to the unheard female voices of the coal mines silenced again. In contrast, the memorials to the World Wars often depicting male dead soldiers are recognized without complaint or offence. Is this another example of patriarchy othering the female? Hiding the parts of history that it finds unpalatable? The To-do Pile has since been reimagined, now highlighting the reality of infant mortality, birth and birth control for the women of the pits.

I feel that a history told inaccurately is a most neglectful action, with detrimental consequences to any society, culture, gender, or individual. Were a film produced depicting Hitler’s Nazi Germany as the hero to the Allied villains, I wonder whether we would as a society tolerate this inaccuracy. Yet as quickly as iconic women like Amy Dilwyn and Elizabeth Andrews are uncovered after decades buried by patriarchy; that same society removes them from sight, silencing their voices once again. It would appear that gender bias is still hidden in plain sight.

Elizabeth Andrews To Do Pile 2017

 

Current reading list:

 Our Mother’s Land: Chapters in Welsh Women’s History, 1830-1939(Gender studies in Wales)

Angela V John.

Struggle or Starve: Women’s Lives in the South Wales Valley’s Between the Two World Wars.

Peter Mathews.

 Our Sisters’ Land: Changing Identity of women in Wales.

Jane Aaron.

 Out of the Shadows: a History of Women in Twentieth-century Wales.

Deirdre Beddoe.

The Rebecca Rioter.

 Amy Dillwyn


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