Our Red Aunt is Glasgow Women’s Library’s first solo exhibition by an international artist. In Our Red Aunt, New Zealand artist Fiona Jack presents a collection of new works responding to the work and life of her grandaunt, prominent Scottish activist and suffragette Helen Crawfurd (née Jack).
Crawfurd (1877 –1954) was a prominent Scottish suffragette, Rent Strike organiser, and Communist activist and the exhibition takes place in Glasgow Women’s Library less than a mile away from where Crawfurd campaigned on Glasgow Green in the early 1900s.
Over the past year, Jack has studied Helen Crawfurd’s unrelenting crusade against injustice and, with friends and collaborators, has made a series of books, banners, sculptures and ceramics that respond to Crawfurd’s legacy and the relevance of her critical perspectives today.
Jack’s works for the exhibition will also include a powerful piece created from a tonne of etched stones emblazoned with the statement “in the hands of the proletariat”. These stones will be taken away by visitors to the exhibition until none remain.
This work evokes an episode described in Crawfurd’s autobiography where she talks about her move towards militancy as a suffragette and describes an incident in 1912 when she broke the windows of Jack Pease, Minister for Education (and was jailed for nine months).
I took the two stones given me, got a taxi early in the morning to Piccadilly and quietly made my way to Harvard Street. The two stones had messages attached, with a demand for the enfranchisement of women, etc. I felt rather proud of the fact that I broke both windows and that my aim was good.
Jack’s work is being shown in the specific context of the former Gentleman’s Reading Room of the former local lending library for the Bridgeton area, and as such evocatively marks the distance travelled in women’s campaigns for equality with men. “As impressed as I was at reading this passage I wasn’t seeking to re-enact this moment, or to find out what was written on the notes attached to her stones specifically, but rather I wanted to make a connection between the bold actions of her and her suffragette comrades, her almost lifelong commitment to Marxist/communist thinking, and a contemplation of radical action today.”
The exhibition will be complemented with discussions and the ambition to see Crawfurd’s autobiography, which will be available to read in a limited edition for the exhibition, published for a wider audience.
Our Red Aunt runs until Saturday 17th March.