The year 2018 marks one hundred years since the introduction of voting rights for some women in the UK. Events around the country are celebrating this anniversary and the progress which has been made in the interim, whilst also highlighting the continuing struggle for equality faced by women around the world. One such celebration is the exhibition WORTH, which will be on show at PRAXIS gallery, Newcastle, from 2 – 30 November 2018.
WORTH is a new body of work by artist, activist and ‘Nasty Woman’ Lady Kitt, inspired by British feminist activist and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign against the removal of the only woman from British banknotes. WORTH responds to the insufficient representation of women’s achievements on our currency by producing portraits on genuine £50 bank notes. Lady Kitt’s project has grown as a result of a collective process through the input of the national and international community, who were invited to respond to an online callout to nominate women deserving of recognition and celebration.
Laboriously crafted by cutting tiny heart shapes out of the notes to create the likeness, Lady Kitt has described these pieces as ‘love letters’ sending a message of gratitude and admiration to the subjects, as well as one of hope and encouragement to the next generation of girls who can be inspired and spurred on by their example. Of particular personal significance is the portrayal of Martine Dellard, the artist’s friend and fellow member of Nasty Women North East. Dellard has been a dedicated campaigner for women’s rights for over fifty years, without seeking any personal acclaim.
Lady Kitt’s practice is largely centred around social engagement, using workshops and performance to involve different groups in the community. She is keen to encourage and facilitate opportunities for people to work together on creative projects as a way to bring people together and overcome differences. Although this aspect of the work is less visible in WORTH, the way the subjects for the portraits were chosen demonstrates the importance of commonality. Funding of the project has also been a collaborative process, and anyone who would like to support WORTH can do so by visiting the artist’s crowdfunding page.
The artworks also retain an element of performance, with small glass vials displayed alongside the perforated banknotes. These vials contain the precious remnants of the creative process, the tiny cut-out hearts of which the images are formed. There is a sense of ritual, the viewer is aware of the meticulous and repetitive process of incising and removing these fragments, to be lovingly treasured and displayed alongside the portraits. This evidence of the personal involvement of the artist, both emotional and physical, adds a poignancy to these pieces. Their titles relate not to the name of the subject but to the number of hearts cut out to create the portrait. For example, ‘127 ways you are worth more to me like this’ (2018) is a portrait of Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. The title emphasises the care and affection of the creative process as well as highlighting the need to recognise the value and worth of such women.
The artist describes the significance of the project as follows:
“Through making and sharing this project I want to give myself, and others, opportunities to imagine what society can gain from celebrating a wide variety of people, achievements, stories. I believe the individuals we choose to celebrate can have a profound impact on our shared culture(s), on our ability to negotiate our own place within those and on the resilience of these cultures / communities.
“This is why many of the subjects are chosen by inviting nominations via social media — these are not just people who I admire, the choice of subjects is a reflection of my local and global community, an attempt to document, rejoice in and develop our common identity. The project is a series of intimate acts of making and public / collaborative acts of negotiating and sharing. The time, resources, thought and love that goes into each work is a testament to my admiration for the subjects and also dedication to the relationship I have with my community.
“The process of creating the individual works strengthens my admiration, my resolve, my sense of what I’m doing and why. By retaining the “cut outs” and exhibiting them alongside the portraits, I hope to expose a trace of these labour-intensive and emotionally rich making, thinking and connecting processes.”
At the exhibition in November, viewers will be able to see ten of the series of banknote portraits displayed alongside some other papercut artworks, such as one created from an election ballot paper — a reminder of the battles that have been fought to give women the right to vote, and the importance of using that right. The banknote portraits will be accompanied by hand-written descriptions of the women portrayed and the achievements for which they are being celebrated.
The preview event on Friday 2 November 2018 (7 -10pm) will also include performances, poetry and music. Adam Carruthers will be reading from his new book of poetry For Late Snowdrops and for an hour between 7 and 8pm a performance will take place entitled Goats called John. Devised by Lady Kitt, three female performers will be standing or sitting on plinths, carrying out various activities. This piece relates to Caroline Criado-Perez’s research about public statues in the UK, which found that only 2.7% are of historical, non-royal females. This performance, alongside the works on show, demonstrates Lady Kitt’s desire to use creativity as a way to comment on our culture, not in angry opposition but as a protest of beauty and celebration.
Sarah Davies is an artist and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne.