Since launching on International Women’s Day in March, for most of 2016 the idle women (on the water) barge has acted as a floating arts centre on Lancashire’s canals.

The latest part of the project, Stories in the Skies, sees a new artist-in-residence, a week of literary inspired art havoc, contemporary writing in Persian form, and a commissioned graphic novel.

All will take place on board the Selina Cooper barge and on the towpaths surrounding the barge, which until 10 September is moored at the village of Church near Accrington, Lancashire.

Playwright, director and teacher Mojisola Adebayo is the third resident artist to climb on board. For her, the site at Accrington is a “refreshing place to write and think”.

With open fields and wildlife in view, during her residency Adebayo will be working on a new play, inviting women and girls to explore and share ideas through writing, drama and games.

This week also sees visual artist Sarah Cole on the towpath for her project The Wild Washerwomen – a week of airing dirty linen and creating havoc along the canal, inspired by the book of the same name by Quentin Blake and John Yeoman.

Cole orchestrates collaborative encounters and her practice takes the form of live research. While used to working with people in unusual places, this new project is, she explains, “a step outside of the more immersive processes” she usually undertakes.

“I have no idea whether this new work will be ‘successful’ – that is not my aim,” adds Cole. “I will be inviting women to join me, using the location and situation as a context to talk about boundaries, journies, choice and vulnerability.

“We will rinse, dry, decorate, dramatise, reveal, conceal and see ‘what comes out in the wash’ during the week.”

Act of subversion

The idle women project also has journalist-activist Rahila Gupta as associate writer. She will develop Rubáiyát of Rojava, a contemporary true story styled in a Persian form of poetry.

Rojava is an autonomous region in Northern Syria near the Turkish border, seen by many as a place of hope and inspiration with pioneering experiments in gender, class and race equality.

Gupta comments: “All of this is in short supply in Britain and to aspire to such values is to reject the system here. To sing about it from the rooftops is an act of subversion, which idle women encourages, committed as it is to art that is socially and politically engaged.”

The project will also be joined by St Helens-based artist, activist and set builder Michelle Wren for Girls of the Gannow, a production of new creations made from found objects and cardboard.

To document the programme, idle women has commissioned a graphic novel by Edinburgh-based artist Candice Purwin. Interim chapters of what promises to be a sharply observed collection of narratives will be published online and in print throughout the project.

Mojisola Adebayo facilitates workshops every Tuesday on board the Selina Cooper from 5.30-8pm, and at Lancashire Women’s Centre on Wednesdays from 10am-12pm.

Sarah Cole will be on the towpath from 2-5pm, 2-6 August.

Michelle Wren’s Girls of the Gannow begins 4 August and meets 2-3pm weekly at Gannow Lane Community Centre, Rose Grove

1. idle women’s Selina Cooper, 2016. Image credit: Jill Jennings, 2016
2. Sarah Cole, Shower, 2011. Image courtesy of artist

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