Friday 17-06-2016 - 15:36
Last Women's History Month NUS Women’s Campaign teamed up with the HerStory project to address the lack of women in UK curricula. Susuana, NUS Women’s Officer caught up with Alice Wroe the founder of HerStory to learn more about the project.
What is the HerStory UK Project?
HerStory is a project that uses feminist art and participatory practices to engage people of all genders with women’s history that is not in the curriculum. It aims to rupture the way history is conventionally presented, shaped and shared. Participants are given all they need to journey through women’s history and in their words ‘do’ feminism rather than talk about it, for example recreating artworks like Judy Chicago’s ‘Dinner Party’. The project aims to promote a critical way of thinking, develop confidence and provide people of all genders with an alternative history and framework through which to navigate the world.
How did the project begin?
I started to think about the project about three years ago when I was a student listening to Woman’s Hour. It was an episode about an exhibition at the Women’s Library. The presenter was talking through all of these different events and women from history and over the top was the song from Mary Poppins that goes ‘our daughters, daughters will adore us and they’ll sing in grateful chorus well done sister suffragette’. It may be partly due to my childhood nostalgia for that film, but I was totally overwhelmed and realised I had never felt pride or heard anyone say well done to the suffragettes or any of the women that had come before me. I saw myself in some kind of vacuum just arriving at the life I was living. I started doing some research and felt very inspired as women started cropping up in so many areas of my life. These incredible people that made me feel bigger, fuller, taller and able to take up more space in the world. I then started to feel angry and let down by my education system, that it had taken me this long to feel this sense of belonging and empowerment. So, that is why I started Herstory and wanted to take it into schools.
What sort of workshops do you run?
In my sessions I recreate Judy Chicago's canonical feminist artwork 'The Dinner Party'. Together as a group we populate the work, becoming part of it. Participants are given all they need to shape and share the stories of women from history, so that we learn about this alternative history through each other. I also run related zine and collage making sessions. For me, collage is a feminist strategy. In a world where the way women’s bodies are represented is so uniform and the confines of what is beautiful and acceptable is so narrow, to liberate the form and burst the body apart is a radical feminist act. The collages I make are part of a strong feminist tradition, but are also a new way of remembering and relating to women from the past; an approach that centres their lives and experience rather than their bodies.
What feedback do you receive from students who attend these workshops?
The students I work with have been consistently amazing. Their bravery and generosity in the sessions has enabled me to see new aspects of the women I've spent so long researching that I had never noticed before. The nicest compliment I have had from a student is that through Herstory you can 'do' feminism rather than talk about it. I can't tell you how delighted I am that students are talking about feminism in schools - because they are doing so in the most sensitive and powerful ways. The idea that I can offer a practical way of doing what they talk about makes me very happy and pushes the project forward.
How can students’ unions and student activist get in contact with you?
I would LOVE to do more Herstory sessions, particularly with university groups. Please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @herstory_uk I also have Instagram @herstory_uk. Do get in touch.
For more information about the joint campaign visit the NUS HerStory page here.