Current sorting and sifting through boxes and files in the studio continues to throw up reminders of past work. Today I came across a series of images of my ‘Sweet Nothings’ assemblage – a collection of altered ceramic female figurines. My intervention four years or so ago involved making the figurines mute – covering their mouths with Elastoplast – silencing them. At that point in time, pre the Me Too* movement, I was thinking about the universal abuse directed at girls and young women – a push from certain quarters to keep them in their place, compliant and impotent.
I remember that there was a powerful response to the work when I first launched it. It was clear I’d hit a nerve with some and that there were deep concerns around the issue of keeping girls and young women silenced. Four years on and this piece of work keeps coming back to me – a harsh reminder not just of the historical abuse that’s still unfolding, but also that which is ongoing. I was pleased to be asked to exhibit the work again this year by curator Aidan Moesby. The message behind it is something that I feel ought to be ‘out there’ – shared and up for discussion. Because it’s a sad but undeniable fact – ‘Sweet Nothings’ has rarely lost its relevance since I first made it and continues to be as timely and pertinent as ever.
In recent days, there’s been a lot of news coverage around Prince Andrew’s past association with the late Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender, trafficker and paedophile. One thing that struck me in this week’s publicly broadcasted interview with journalist and newsreader Emily Maitlis, was how common the statement of having ‘no recollection’ has become. There’s a real familiarity to it and the phrase is invariably spoken in relation to specific young girls and women. ‘No – no memory of meeting this woman, whatsoever’ – a phrase so often uttered by men in high-powered, privileged positions, in spite of damning photographic evidence suggesting the opposite. I chose ‘Sweet Nothings’ as my title as it’s indicative of the way so many girls and young women are treated by certain men; viewed solely as decorative beings, sweet but nothing, essentially – other than sexual objects, denied of having any real substance or a voice worthy of being heard. Suzanne Moore as far back as 2015 wrote this in a Guardian article:
‘The war against women is waged routinely and globally. Equality of the most basic kind cannot exist when a woman’s life and her words are always worth less than a man’s.’
Moore’s sentiments and high emotions around the subject of unsolicited exploitation of girls and young women rings as true now, as it did then – a sad and uncomfortable truth. (The full article can be read here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/04/india-turkey-oxford-state-of-war-against-women-sexual-violence )
‘Sweet Nothings’ is currently on show at The Foundry: a place for change, Vauxhall as part of the ‘Contested Spaces’ group exhibition, curated by Aidan Moesby. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate venue for it to be shown in as the building offers office, meeting, conference and exhibition space to social justice & human rights focused organisations. Click here for further information about the show & the participating artists:
* For more on the Me Too movement: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_Too_movement