As part of our International Women’s Day and #Vote100 programme, our visitors worked with textiles artist Seleena Daye to create a banner celebrating inspiring female abolitionists who fought to end slavery.
In this blog, Seleena shares the processes she used to create the banner and more about the inspiring women who are featured.
“So much of what we read around slavery and the abolition of it is very male centric, so to sit down with a bunch of women of all ages and celebrate through a medium often deemed as ‘women’s work’ was a great way to celebrate International Women’s Day.
“The reasons why each participant made the piece they did were so varied, from the felt portrait of Sojourner Truth, which was made as a personal challenge to the creator as it was something she had never done and didn’t think she could do. To the embroidered portrait of the Forten Sisters, which was chosen because the creator of that piece is herself 1 of 3 sisters? The Mary Prince piece was chosen because Mary Prince came from Bermuda, like the grandparents of another attendee. Even the piece including an afro comb has a connection both to the creator and to slavery, bringing up discussions around Black hair and the heritage of hairstyles, for example around cornrows being used by enslaved women who, rarely being allowed time or opportunity to do their hair, may have desired a style that would last.
“When bringing the contributions together into a finished piece, I added imagery of other women abolitionists such as Harriet Tubman and Ellen Craft and also explored ways in which people escaped from enslavement, through the Underground Railroad, quilt codes and navigating escape using constellations. There is the quilt code included in the banner, that meant ‘follow the North Star’ and the constellation in the centre is of The Big Dipper which features the North Star.
“In the banner’s corner are some dates, ‘1865 – 2018’, making reference to the date of abolition in the United States of America, and the words ‘Keep Fighting For Freedom’ sitting next to a portrait of Malala Yousafazi, who is a modern day female activist fighting for the freedom of young girls, pointing out that POC are still not truly free. In the opposite corner sits a square with bananas and a cotton plant, things we use today, that one time were picked by the hands of enslaved people, and in some cases still picked by people who don’t have basic human rights.
“I have also included coloured hessian within the banner to represent the goods being packed into hessian sacks, to indigo and African batik inspired fabrics that are a nod to the continent enslaved people were taken from, Africa. I hand dyed the centre piece fabric which was originally a pale blue cotton. I dyed one end green and the other midnight blue, signifying the huge journey many people took, from earth to the sky. The central image of the banner is a silhouette of a woman in shackles under the slogan ‘Am I not a woman and a sister’ which is inspired by abolition imagery used by campaigners at the time, but can also be a message that rings true today.
“It was such a pleasure to be able to create something so important amongst other women who stitched and spoke of solidarity and hardships and how far we’ve come and how far we still have yet to go.
We are women and sisters.”
Our new female abolitionists banner is here at the International Slavery Museum within the Anthony Walker Education Centre.
This workshop was part of our Adult Creative Offer.
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