Library

Feminist Self-Publishing

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Location

Library Display

This small survey of women’s self-publishing includes posters, magazines, ceramics, banners and zines – displaying some of the multiple ways in which the feminist message has been distributed in the world.  It also explores how complex themes such as women’s roles in society, gender inequality, queerness, and their relationship to technology and environmentalism are distilled into imagery and language designed to quickly provoke thought and change.

Beginning with six historic posters loaned from The Feminist Library, both The Female Image Presented by the Sexist Media Will Be Smashed By Us, The Women and Right on Jane are indicative of women’s fierce battle to escape domestic and societal constraints.  Right on Jane (1977), references and subverts the Ladybird Key Words Reading Scheme series, which was popular in the 1950s, altering the final image to empower Jane to overturn sexist expectations.  It was produced by the SEE RED Women’s Workshop, an influential and prolific feminist collective screen-printing studio, operating between 1974 and 1990, whose workshop was based nearby in Iliffe Yard, a derelict mews off the Walworth Road in South London between 1977 and 1984.  Also included here is the monochromatic poster 6 Demands (1973), also by SEE RED, produced to document the demands handed to the Prime Minister on 6 March 1971 on the occasion of the first International Women’s Day march.  This was part of a successful campaign leading to The Sex Discrimination Act, which was passed in 1975, making sexual discrimination in the workplace illegal.

Two particularly graphic designs in the display were produced by The Women’s Press, a feminist publishing company established in London which ran between 1977 and 2021, publishing fiction and non-fiction writing by women from around the globe.  The background for the banner Don’t Miss Dazzling New Fiction from the Women’s Press reproduces the iconic spine design that appears on all books published by press.  The hot pink This Iron is the Symbol of an Important New Publisher, plays with the word ‘press’, transforming the iron from a symbol of domestic oppression into an imposing, powerful, and creative tool for distributing the feminist message.

The beautiful and tender Lovers poster forms the centerpiece for this first constellation of images, and is one of a number of screen-printed posters made by Monica Sjöö (1938-2005), an artist, writer and radical Eco-Feminist. Sjöö worked with a variety of media, including painting and drawing to explore her ideas around eco-feminism and Goddess feminism, combining personal symbology with archetypes, references to pre-patriarchal societies and the power of nature. She frequently contributed to magazines and newsletters self-published by feminist collectives, some of which are available to read as part of the display.

Our second constellation of contemporary open-source digital posters designed by Batool Desouky and Cristina Cochior, present a call to action and are part of the From Cloud to Crowd campaign, which in turn is part of wider campaign – Trans*Feminist Counter Cloud Action Plan instituted by The Institute for Technology in the Public Interest (TITiPI).  Dancing on the Ruins of Big Tech, Counter Cloud Action, and Imagine All Software is Designed by People Who Love You are three of a series of 15 posters. Their statements encapsulate the goals of the project which include refusing the takeover of our institutions’ resources by Big Tech and reimagining relationships with “the cloud” using feminist methodologies.  In addition to spreading their message through artistic means these goals are actioned by building open-source technology and sharing knowledge through free workshops.

Rachael House is an artist that uses a variety of mediums to get her message across.  Her practice encompasses performance, drawing and zine making, as well as ceramics, of which three examples are included in the vitrine.  House’s plates and bowls reference both the domestic and female, as well as commemorative platters and question what we should celebrate. One is not born but rather becomes a woman, Simone de Beauvoir incorporates a quotation from the work of the existentialist philosopher and feminist, which House says ‘has become even richer in meaning as we consider the many ways one can now ‘become a woman’ as well as the social construction referred to.  The shallow bowl Vulvic Space – For artist Carolee Schneeman Vulvic refers to Shneeman’s words and was made with her work in mind.  House says ‘It is playing with the bodily language of ceramics (pots have bodies- feet, shoulders, bellies, necks etc., but never genitals) as well as the fact women are referred to as vessels, reduced to their reproductive ability’. Of the final pair tiles entitled Queer Rage, House says ‘queer rage is less celebrated than queer joy, but the two are akin. We need to fight inequality, injustice and the violence to our communities in order to claim the joy that is ours. Our rage is a vital creative force. These tiles are a reminder of that.’  Included also are examples of House’s zines, which reveal drawings relationship text and ceramics in House’s works.

The display also includes 27 magazines and newsletters from the collection at the Feminist Library and includes titles such as Women’s Own, Iranian Women’s Solidarity Group News, The London Women’s Liberation Newsletter, and Mama! Women Artists Together.  Self-published magazines and newsletters were a key form of communication for women across the country and were a way to share ideas and organize political action.  They were also densely creative platforms and contain drawn contributions by unknown women as well as well established artists such as Ann Churchill, Sue Richardson, Kate Walker and Monica Sjöö, all of which sit alongside each other non-hierarchically.