Charlotte Hodes
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Motive / Motif: Artists Commemorate the Suffragettes, Ruthin Craft Centre, Wales, 14 January - 16 April 2023

In 2018, to mark the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, London College of Fashion, UAL invited twenty renowned and emerging artists to each create an image which was embroidered onto a handkerchief to mark Women’s Suffrage. These handkerchiefs will be on show at Ruthin Craft Centre in early 2023, to include work by artists Charlotte Hodes, Sarah Lucas, Mona Hatoum and Celia Pym.

The starting point for this project was a handkerchief, embroidered in 1912 by women suffragettes who were imprisoned at Holloway Prison. Most of the women who signed the handkerchief participated in demonstrations in March 1912 organised by the Women’s Social & Political Union. They were denied the status of political prisoners and many were force-fed.

While men might have more commonly lived by their pen, the needle gave women agency in education (by learning to read and write whilst simultaneously learning their trade), employment and, where economically and materially possible, in their creativity and self-definition. The stitched word enabled women to find artistic and even radical expression and is a unifier of women from different class and cultural backgrounds.

The significance of the image on the handkerchief goes far beyond this modest embroidered object. Its beauty belies the women’s struggle and suffering whilst revealing their bond with the embroidered word.

Motive / Motif: Artists Commemorate the Suffragettes was launched at Here East, London in 2018. Subsequent venues were Buckingham Palace, London 2018; Vestry House Museum, London 2019; Bunka Gukuen University, Tokyo 2019; The Appleby Gallery, Frances Bardsley Academy for Girls, Women’s History Month, 2020.

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Handkerchief, embroidery on cotton, 28 x 28cm. Photo: Peter Abrahams.