Jenny Engledow, a participant in Re-making Picasso’s Guernica from the outset and a member of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), writes about her reasons for making (and re-making):
I like sewing, so when making a banner choosing the fabrics for their textures and colours that work together, creating a message so it is understood by its visual content, possibly not requiring any language or using universal symbols, feels very important to me.
Being involved in working for peace, justice and human rights and making an analysis from a woman’s perspective has been part of my life for many years, because women’s experience is different from that of men. Women are used in war as the target of such excessive brutality it often brings the feeling of despair. Indeed there are so many issues of injustice, racial and gendered hatred and state backed violence worldwide, that it is not possible to become involved with all of them.
The medium of the banner is for me the obvious way to communicate the message about whatever injustice or demand is being demonstrated. Held up, it becomes a focus for people watching a demonstration to identify what the action is about. For TV and the press cameras it presents an instant visual message and a natural focus. For those carrying the banner it says in bold ways what would not otherwise be heard to say. It is also a permanent record of the motivations and analysis of the time it was created.
Making (and re-making) against racism
Politicians, the press, right wing groups and some members of the public frequently talk about ‘foreigners,’ who they say take our jobs, claim benefits to which they are not entitled, live in houses that cost rate payers mountains of money, drain our national health service and so on. There is a drip feed of frustration, fear and anger directed, sometimes overtly sometimes not, at people whose nationality, religion and/or culture is identified as ‘other’, which far right groups and others feed on.
Racism has many forms, too many for this short piece of writing but people who come to the UK as refugees, do so because of wars in their home countries, in which, often the UK and other western nations have intervened, invited or not, looking out for their own interests. The selling of weapons and equipment by the west, (the UK’s biggest industry to our shame) cynically causes a massive drain on funds away from what they should be spent on, creating poverty and misery and enabling repression by governments in many parts of the world and causing their citizens to become refugees, who then face the criticism and racism mentioned above.
Just sewing might not solve all this, but collective effort to re-make Picasso’s Guernica is reminder of the link between war and racism.