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Artists Commemorate The Suffragettes

Mona Hatoum embroidered Suffragettes handkerchief s

Motive/Motif: Artists Commemorate the Suffragettes at The Vestry House Museum

The Vestry House Museum is marking the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Representation of the People Act with an exhibition inspired by the work of imprisoned Suffragettes.

1918 saw reform in Great Britain’s electoral system in the form of the Representation of the people Act. For the first time, women were entitled to electoral rights. Still, they had to be over the age of 30 and meet certain property qualifications, but the crucial journey towards electoral equality had begun.

The WSPU, better known as the ‘Suffragettes’ had fought for this reform. They were the more militant than previous women’s suffrage groups and their motto ‘deeds, not words’ led then to show their dissent through acts of protest, vandalism and violence. These acts led to many of the women being incarcerated.

The Vestry House Museum’s exhibition was inspired by a piece of cloth which was embroidered in 1912 by 78 Suffragettes imprisoned in Holloway Prison. Most of these women were in prison as a direct result of their actions within the WSPU. The cloth was embroidered in purple and green – the colour scheme of the Suffragettes. Purple signified purity and dignity and green signified hope.

suffragette embroidered cloth

(Detail from the original cloth from 1912 – full image at the bottom of post)

20 contemporary artists were asked to embroider handkerchiefs inspired by this original cloth and the efforts and struggles of the Suffragettes. These artists included Sarah Lucas and Rachel Whiteread.

handkerchief embroiderd by Anila Rubiku
(Anila Rubiku)
embroidered handkerchief by Mona Hatoum
(Mona Hatoum)
The original embroidered cloth offers us a fascinating, yet brief, glimpse into the lives of the women who often put their own lives at risk to fight for equality. The impact of their actions is beautifully captured and reflected upon by the contemporary handkerchiefs, shown alongside the original cloth. 100 years apart but inspiring women alike.
suffragette embroidered cloth Holloway prison
(Original cloth embroidered by 78 imprisoned Suffragettes, 1912)
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