Female-led new commissions are at the heart of this year’s Festival of Voice programme. Created by Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff’s biennial international arts festival is back for its second edition, igniting the city with powerful voices from 7 – 17 June. In this series, we meet the voices behind this year’s new creations. Here Wales Arts Review speaks to Helen Marriage of Artichoke about this Sunday’s Processions, a mass participation artwork to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave the first British women the right to vote.
Tell us about PROCESSIONS
PROCESSIONS is a mass participation artwork taking place in Cardiff on Sunday 10 June in celebration of 100 years since the first British women gained the right to vote. This significant landmark for gender equality also coincides with 100 years since the end of WW1 – a time of incredible social change which saw women’s role in society completely redefined – which is why PROCESSIONS has been commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War anniversary.
As well as in Cardiff, PROCESSIONS will be taking place simultaneously across the UK’s three other capitals, Edinburgh, Belfast and London, making it the largest ever UK artwork created by women. On the day participants will be given a wrap in one of the suffragette colours of green, white and violet (standing for ‘Give Women Votes’) and will be choreographed as they walk through the city streets to create flowing rivers of colour. At the centre of the processions will be hundreds of hand-made banners created by artists in partnership with community groups across the UK including Welsh organisations such as Peak Cymru, Span Arts and Theatr Clwyd.
Tell us the inspiration for PROCESSIONS
The original idea for PROCESSIONS was conceived by Creative Director Darrell Vydelingum, who’s vision was to mark the centenary by filling the streets with women. It was a brilliant and audacious idea that producers Artichoke developed into this concept for a mass participation artwork taking place in the capital cities of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom.
The inspiration for the project were original photographs of suffragettes parading in white to demand the vote. We wanted to create a modern version of this image, with contemporary British women walking together in thanks to the suffragettes, but also as a reminder of how far we still have to go in the quest for true gender equality.
The decision to commission 100 women artists to work with 100 arts and community organisations up and down the UK to create 100 unique centenary banners which will be carried in the four processions, is inspired by the original suffragette banners which were an important campaign tactic. There are so many gorgeous banners which are true artworks in and of themselves. For example, there’s a banner at Museum of London with the names of 80 individual suffragettes who were all on hunger strike at Holloway Prison embroidered on it that I find incredibly moving.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Helen Marriage and I am the Director of arts charity Artichoke. We produce some of the largest and most ambitious public art events in the UK from Lumiere, the UK’s largest light festival, to London’s Burning in 2016 which commemorated 350 years since the Great Fire of London and saw us float a replica of the 1666 London skyline on the river Thames before setting it alight.
Tell us about your team
The Artichoke team are small but we pack a punch! We have a team of around 20 staff in our London office and many more partners working throughout the UK helping us bring PROCESSIONS to life. We have national coordinators based in all four countries and are working closely alongside partner organisations such as 14-18 NOW.
What does Festival of Voice mean to you?
Festival of Voice is a brilliant moment to celebrate art and culture and I delighted that PROCESSIONS is able to be a part of this year’s programme. My background is in festivals – I worked at London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) and was the Director of the Salisbury Festival, and I’ve always admired FOV for showcasing unique and inspiring international talent while also nurturing homegrown Welsh voices.
What are you looking forward to from the rest of the Festival of Voice programme?
Other than PROCESSIONS, I would love to see Lisa Jên or Carys Eleri perform! Both are incredibly talented Welsh women and have both come on board as ambassadors for PROCESSIONS which means they will be walking with us in Cardiff on Sunday 10 June.