Presented as an offering to Amy Voris's A Shrine to Women's Work (1-13th August 2016), تكلمي – pronounced ‘takkallami’ and meaning ‘speak’ in English, is a banner displaying the text for a performance score, against the background of the Palestinian Flag. This title (تكلمي )is the Arabic feminine word for ‘speak’. It is an imperative directed at a female subject. Banners are typically used in protest or processions to display meaningful slogans and I was drawn to the visual aesthetics of these kinds of cultural products.
While I was designing and making this banner I kept thinking of the Women’s Social and Political Movement, led by the Pankhursts, and their slogan of ‘Deeds not Words’. Artist collaborators Lesley Hill and Helen Paris have argued that ‘Suffragettes invented Performance Art’ (2008: YouTube). Their marches often incorporated elements of theatricality, whilst smaller-scale guerrilla protests involved symbolic acts of transgression, such as when Lillian Forester, Evelyn Manesta and Annie Briggs smashed the glass of several of the biggest and most expensive paintings in the Manchester Art Gallery on 3rd April 1913, or when Emily Davison was tragically killed whilst allegedly trying to attach a WSPU flag to the King’s horse during the Epsom Derby on June 4th 1913. The relationship between women, protest and performance has a long and important history.
My decision to make an offering in the form of a score relates to my ongoing interest in creating and documenting performance with instructions, scores and other forms of textual provocation. This practice is historically rooted in the activities of artists (as well as non-artists and anti-artists) associated with the Fluxus Movement, which was founded in the 1960s. As Ken Friedman states, Fluxus was a movement that stood out from others due to its diversity of members and because it had a strong presence of women (Friedman 2012).
My performance practice is thematically connected with theorists who write about the relationship between space and gender. In particular Doreen Massey has been a major influence on my thinking and creative practice. In one of her books she writes about reveling, whenever possible, in being a ‘space invader’ (Massey 1994) – a woman entering a place where she is not normally expected to be seen. Massey was also a Mancunian and I love the idea of being and living in her city. Her writing has always felt present whenever I am navigating space. She died on March 11th this year, so it feels particularly apt to reference her in this shrine. The text of my banner is layered on top of the flag, representing an interruption of the visual space of the flag image – my own nod to Massey’s ‘space invasion’ – and though it is written in the form of an instructional score, it can also be read and understood simply as a slogan.
I have always admired the textual declarations of Barbara Kruger’s sometimes-cryptic text and image collage artworks. I also like that Kruger’s art practice developed from her experience working as a magazine editorial designer. I am interested in how art stems from and speaks within the everyday context of a person’s experience. The text of my banner was carefully chosen to represent the work and knowledges of my grandmothers, and to be an ode to the hidden or invisible skills and knowledges of conveying oral tales and wisdom, which are a major part of the legacies they left behind. I was very close to my maternal grandmother. She taught me to develop an informed opinion, to speak for myself, and to stand up straight with my shoulders back and my head held high. She took my brothers and me to the library and made me believe I could read anything; she took us for walks and taught us the names of the trees and how to climb them.
My paternal grandmother is someone I only met twice before she died and she was very ill when I saw her. I know about her through the stories my Father tells me. She was a housewife, had eleven children, and though she was illiterate, she passed on many proverbs to my Father and his siblings. Her maiden surname was خطيب (Khatib) which is an Arabic name given to denote someone who is a ‘speaker’ – usually someone who speaks in public and as a public figure.
The paternal side of my family are Palestinian, hence the flag. I also liked the idea of ‘raising your flag’, of asserting who you are and what is important to you. Part of my reason for including the Palestinian flag in my banner is meant as an acknowledgement to the ongoing work of trying to create a solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict, and it represents how much issues around Palestine/Israel have permeated my work as an artist and academic. To raise your flag is to persist. To speak is to assert self-determination. This is the perpetual work of Palestinians.
The banner largely consists of cotton fabric and thread – a ‘clew’ to Hope Mill, the location of the Shrine, which was a cotton-spinning mill during the 19th Century, and to Manchester’s industrial past in general. The banner was stitched by hand and machine, by my Mother and me. There is a lineage of sewing practices on my mother’s side. My great-grandmother lived for most of her life in London. She was from a Romany Gypsy family, who settled in London when they came off the road, and she had a job as a court dressmaker. My Mother never worked as a seamstress, but she has always made things, particularly for me. When I joined a dancing and acting troupe as a child she made me costumes for shows and competitions. My dancing and acting were always mediocre, but my costumes were the best in the group. When I began thinking about making something for this shrine I knew it would have to be sewn. The fabrics we chose for the text of the banner represent typically British patterns – floral chintz, gingham, polka dots, strawberries, and an elephant print (a link to my Mother’s German maiden name, ‘Trünk’).
I wanted to produce something for the shrine that would weave these many threads together, and serve as an ode to so many women who have influenced my thinking and my practice and made me what I am. I also hope that my offering to the shrine might serve as an imperative for others to speak.