I stumbled upon this exhibition quite by accident while I was having coffee with one of my friends in the MAC, an arts centre in our local park. Lured by the promise of a free exhibition,¬†we wandered into this big open room with a series of paintings created by Dr Sally Payen called the Fence and the Shadow, concerning the contested landscape of Greenham Common and the women‚Äôs peace camps and anti-nuclear protests that took place in the 1980s.
The artwork was dark and provocative, but it was the little reading room and exhibit, tagged onto the end of the artwork which really captured my imagination. Although small in size, my friend and I ended up spending almost 45 minutes in that little room, learning about the inspiring women who had fought for over a decade to make England safe from nuclear weapons. This small room was well utilised as a thought-provoking exhibition. With original newspaper articles, pictures, letters, posters and even a touching drawing and note from a little boy who wanted his mum to come home, this room created space for education and reflection. There was also a table and chairs, with a wide variety of books to peruse: everything from history books on Greenham, a powerful picture book entitled ‚ÄòWhy We March‚Äô to a book on craftivism ‚Äì peaceful activism through crafts (something I definitely want to try!)
As a 90s baby, the threat of nuclear warfare has always seemed far away. Even recently while North Korea fired missiles over Japan, I felt safe in the knowledge that nuclear warfare would not touch my doorstep, or that if it did, it would likely be the end of the world. Morbid, I know. But during the Cold War, nuclear attacks were a real threat. Children of the Cold War generation were given out leaflets in school to educate them on how to stay safe during a nuclear attack. Yet, Britain still did not want nuclear weapons on its land.
Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp was established in 1981 to protest at cruise missiles (nuclear weapons) being housed at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire, England. The camp was active for 19 years, with the last protesters only disbanding in 2000! Although men initially joined the protest, it quickly became an all-women protest; women weaponized traditional notions of femininity, using their identity as mothers to legitimize their protest against nuclear weapons in the name of the safety of their children ‚Äì the future of the country. The protests of the women were peaceful but effective, but it was the Embrace the Base event in 1982, in which 30,000 people joined hands around the Greenham base, which caused a media frenzy. In 1983, 70,000 protesters did the same thing. Media attention prompted the creation of other peace camps at more than a dozen sites across Europe.
The excellent reading room in this exhibition demonstrated that Greenham had created an alternative world of powerful women. In the words of one well-wisher: “You have all been brave and unyielding, in the face of much opposition. I am sure you will win in the end, and the world will be a finer place for everyone.‚Äù
And it was not just nuclear weapons these women were protesting‚Ä¶
In their words, ‚Äúcruise missiles are only a part of the nuclear chain‚Ä¶so are unemployment, racism, poverty, bad housing, pollution, health cuts, violent against women, rape, torture, starvation.‚Äù
So we remember the actions of these brave women, who were compelled to forsake their families and dedicated almost two decades of their lives to bettering the world. The exhibition left me wondering, what would I have done in that situation? Would I have been brave enough to leave my life to fight this cause? And if not this cause, what cause would have roused me? In fact, it was only by mentioning this exhibition to my mum that I found out that her and one of my aunts were two of those brave women who took it upon themselves to dance on the stiles of Greenham Common, trying to protect their future children; trying to protect me. With that knowledge, how could I not do the same for my future children?
On the off chance anyone happens to be in Birmingham, specifically in Canon Hill Park, I would thoroughly recommend checking out this little exhibit! It closes on Sunday, 26 November.
For more information check out the following links:
Girl Museum Inc.