Where’s Your Vote? at Saheli Hub

Women at Saheli Hub at Handsworth Wellbeing Centre, have been working with Artist Jo Löki to creatively ‘Represent’ their ideas surrounding the impact of gaining, and using the vote, 100 years on. University of Birmingham student intern, Sophie Brenner writes about their journey over the past few months.

Back in September, the Represent project staff worked with the community participants to develop a brief for an Artist commission. From a number of applicants, the groups picked the Artist whose work they liked best, and who they felt would best deliver their hopes for a creative project.

At Saheli Hub, based on election materials that Jo and the ‘Represent’ team found in the Archives at the Library of Birmingham, Jo worked with the group to create their own versions of election posters. In the context of the upcoming general election, we began by discussing political issues the individual members felt were important to them in the present day. In doing so, we uncovered a number of continuities between the issues that frequently appeared in posters in 1918, and issues today. 

Print making with Artist Jo Löki

Each individual created their own slogan – ‘VOTE FOR…’. Some examples were ‘Vote for protecting the NHS’ , ‘Vote for saving Birmingham’s youth clubs’, and ‘Vote for understanding menopause’, all of which were of personal importance to the group.

One of the slogans created using collage, inspired by 1918 election material

Based on these ideas, Jo taught the group to use print making, to create abstract background designs for their posters. They drew images and used different materials to create designs and texture on their inked foam, before learning how to use rollers/ an ink printing press, to print these designs onto paper.  Some really great designs were created – one woman whose slogan focused on preventing the pension age rising printed pound signs out of walking sticks, for example.

Creating designs on foam to form the backdrop to modern campaign slogans.

Then Jo taught the group how to use different typography to emphasise the words they felt were important for their posters. These were then transferred onto their printed backgrounds, and will be printed onto pillowcases to be displayed at the exhibition in 2020!

On her work with Saheli Hub, Jo said:

“My work with participants is primarily about sharing my creative skills, knowledge and experience, in order to  equip them with the means to express their voice and unlock their creative potential.  It was wonderful to see how the women at Saheli Hub took to printmaking and typography, and negotiated with the different tasks to communicate their voice.   They were very trusting in the process; that these different elements would all come together and express their feelings, thoughts and ideas.

The thing that stands out to me at the end of the project, is that while they all started with the same group of materials and techniques to express themselves, what evolves is a series of very diverse artworks, that communicate a variety of voices yet hold together as a collection.  Which in part, is an effect of the heritage that inspired us. It was great to install the work out in Handsworth Park, and see how enthusiastic the group were to the idea for using it to engage others, about the heritage of the Representation Act of 1918, and also about the importance of voting.

Installing it on the eve of the General Election and the timeliness of that, added additional value to the expression of their individual voices—both privately and publicly—and highlighted the importance to us all, in having that opportunity.”

The workshop overall was a really productive learning experience for all involved. Not only did working with Jo help the women to learn new artistic skills and create some fantastic pieces of art, the task sparked some really interesting discussions about the current political situation, and feelings of betrayal by those in power.