After months of not knowing and politely awaiting a decision, finally the deputy manager of a library housing a community art display area allowed me to go ahead and exhibit. I’d asked for June 1st- June 15th so imagine my open jaw when on June 3rd I was told at the same time I was given the opportunity to have the un-cleaned display cabinets that I was late in coming to the library and setting up.
I remained diplomatic to the last. My exhibition at the library complements an happening I’m managing at Anti University 2017 at Hackney Museum entitled “Old Women Talking”. That event is a voyeur’s delight. Visitors can pass through a room where nine senior women are sitting chatting. There’s no script, no rehearsal, just a visible presence of older people in a festival which appears to target a younger cohort of Londoners who can relate to and mimic the radical Anti University of 1968 by creating weird and wonderful happenings.
My exhibition is an installation of Barbie Doll heads morphed into older women by the use of acrylic paint and re-styled hair remembering that the stereotyped media image of the older generation as white flight representatives is not a mirror of the seniors joining in Up Your Street activities. It would have been an effective installation behind polished glass with spotlights but hey I had an hour to set up and even then had left stuff indoors. It is all about making the older generation visible. There’s a large canvas of words which would have been used by UK born octogenarians such as “corsets” and “chimney-fires”. There’s a fringed wall-hanging celebrating International Women’s Day. There are symbols of Anti Nuclear activity from the sixties and a nod to Punks in the seventies. Added in are Sue’s clever plastic bags fashioned and crocheted from supermarket bags. There’s a pristine linen bag advertising High Street Seniors, a walking group of those with walking sticks, arthritis and a willingness to be an increased presence at dusk on London’s high streets.
A marvellous statement is actually being made by an installation which is really a rough diamond in terms of presentation: Older people are not invisible and will not be so. They have opinions and words that matter. They can be seen and heard. They can demonstrate that themselves through their own art and creativity. They are not a stereotype. They are not a mass of sameness. They have herstories, histories and futures.
The Barbie heads were bought after bidding wars at Ebay. By destroying the blue-eyed blond plastic representations of modern women typically called “girls” I was happy constructing a reality. It was a pleasure to observe women in real life and take elements of them into my art. At one point I had wanted to make a paper collage of older women talking but the low number of magazines celebrating our older generation show in the main middle-class self-satisfied smiling white women.
I examined the words used to describe women talking and those words include, “chin-wagging”, “jawing” and “nattering”.
I joined in the London Festival of Creativity and Well-being by acknowledging the Festival’s “Later Years” day on June 15th by making sure that my exhibition stays up for that day. It is by persistence and luck that I secured the Library exhibition space which is meant to be for community artists like myself. There are three cabinets: I was allowed two because the local museum needs a display cabinet, never mind they have a shed-load of walls, cabinets, empty rooms and enough space. I shared my astonishment at that incredible unbelievable situation bearing in mind that I was speaking up for all those community artists I support.
Invisible. Every time I went to the library, I was shelved, ignored, side-stepped and every email was unanswered. It took over two months for the managers to respond. I managed to get a verbal yes for my forthcoming exhibition in November 2017 and the promise of an immediate email confirming that. Hmm.
Another requested booking was denied me because the library needs the cabinets for their own display. The public needs to know that there’s a possible policy change in that community artists are not prioritised when it comes to ownership of community display areas at that particular library.
This was an old woman talking.