Our Red Aunt: rekindling memories of suffragette Helen Crawfurd

helen crawfurd demo.jpg

Have you noticed the number of events that are being organised to commemorate the centenary of women first getting the vote in Britain? Among them is an exhibition at Glasgow Women's Library by New Zealand artist Fiona Jack, who's been researching the life of her great great aunt Mary Crawfurd. Mary was by nature a rebel: as well as being a prominent suffragette, she vehemently opposed World War I, organising rent strikes against landlords who hoped to profit from it and becoming secretary of the Women's Peace Crusade in Glasgow.

The exhibition is one that Fiona felt personally compelled to make:

“there’s no way I could not make a project about her as she seemed to connect so many research threads I was already deeply engaged with – advocacy and community work, activism, Marxism, feminism, public protest and civil disobedience."

In 2016 she made a productive research trip to Glasgow that uncovered rare records that illuminated Helen’s political and personal life from family connections, and she started to think of the creative ways in which she could mark her enormous political impact. Her works for the exhibition include banners on which she worked with a small group of library users;  handmade ceramics created through dialogues with contemporary artists and historians who are champions of Mary’s legacy today and a powerful piece created from a ton of stones each etched with the words 'in the hands of the proletariat'. The idea is that visitors will each take one away with them until none remain. These stones evoke an episode vividly described in Mary's autobiography where she talks about her move towards militancy as a suffragette and describes the time she broke the windows of the Ministry for Education:

“I took the two stones given me, got a taxi early in the morning to Piccadilly and quietly made my way to Harvard Street. The two stones had messages attached, with a demand for the enfranchisement of women, etc. I felt rather proud of the fact that I broke both windows and that my aim was good.” 

The Women's Library is located just a few minutes’ walk from Glasgow Green where Mary led public demonstrations for equality and justice. If you're up in Glasgow before it closes on 17th March, why not go and see the exhibition for yourself?