The notion that the Victorian park, with its curved layout, could be a symbol (or repository) of feminine energy is one of several ideas behind artist Lotte Karlsen’s ambitious series of events Pankhurst In The Park.
Lotte has lived and worked near Alexandra Park for years and has researched the strong links between the area and the Suffragist Movement, which fought for women’s right to vote. Emmeline Pankhurst was born locally on Sloane Street, which now lies within the Alexandra Park Estate (renamed Sedgeborough Road) and Emmeline’s daughters Christabel and Sylvia (also prominent suffragettes) were born near Trafford Bar.
Originally from Norway, Lotte believes whole-heartedly in the power of the natural environment to promote personal well-being. She drew strength from the green spaces of Alexandra Park when she was recovering from a serious illness, and vowed that she would do everything she could to promote the development of the park when she recovered. This is how she came to form Alexandra Arts with a view to making the park a hub of community and creative activity. Her efforts have run in tandem with the lottery funded redevelopment of the park overseen by Manchester City Council.
Lotte also sees wooded spaces as a representation of the feminine, which follows on from ancient traditions within western art.
Lotte is artist-in-residence at St Mary’s Primary School, near Alexandra Park, which is attended by many children whose parents were born abroad in countries such as Somalia and Pakistan. Families within this community often hold conservative views regarding the role of women, ironically not dissimilar to mainstream views within Edwardian England.
It is an uncomfortable truth that cultural and religious codes within minority communities create one of the biggest barriers to equality for females in modern Britain. This is often ignored by commentators and decision makers because of confusion arising out of political correctness and a desire not to undermine multi-culturalism and social harmony.
Lotte wants to encourage the discussion of equal rights for all women and girls in a non-confrontational way through art and an awareness of our local history. So with this in mind, Lotte (pictured on the left) invited Dr. Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline, to speak at a free event held in Alexandra Park’s new pavilion on Wednesday, October 15th 2014:
Helen gave a brief introduction about herself and her family, before inviting the assembled crowd to ask questions. Most people asked about Pankhurst family dynamics, which are complicated.
Emmeline had three daughters, all of whom were political activists. There was Christabel who was right-wing like Emmeline and was her mother’s favourite. She emigrated to America where she became a prominent Second Adventist. Sylvia was a left-wing pacifist whose relationship with an Italian anarchist led to the birth of Helen’s father. Through Italy’s colonial links with Ethiopia and Somalia, Sylvia made an unlikely friendship with Haile Selassie and she remains the only westerner to be buried within Addis Ababa cathedral. And then there was the third sister Adela who was packed off to Australia and became first a communist, and later a fascist.
There was some discussion about whether feminism is fashionable amongst young women in Britain. (Sadly no.) Dr Pankhurst mentioned that she had recently supported Jacqueline Wilson promoting Wilson’s 100th book Opal Plumstead which is a historical novel for girls featuring a suffragette storyline. My 10 year old daughter is a massive Jacqueline Wilson fan so I was excited to hear about this – we are going to see Jacqueline Wilson speak about her new book at the RNCM on Sunday.
Dr Pankhurst was followed by two other speakers. The first was Katie Cercone of New York based Go! Push Pops who will be artists-in-residence at the park for the next few weeks. Katie’s portfolio consisted mainly of pictures of herself with her friends posing in various outfits looking like Bananarama – which I warmed to as a pop fan.
Go! Push Pops are performance artists inspired by hip-hop, yoga, pop culture, shamanistic ritual and goddess archetypes. They are will create a circular shamanic performance piece with local women.
The third speaker was a British-Ghanaian writer based in London who was representing the feminist magazine Hysteria. She read out one of her columns written for the magazine which was inspired by a crude chat-up attempt; it was a great performance.
Chorlton’s Tea Hive provided refreshments in the pavilion. Apparently tea rooms were important meeting places for suffragists.
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On Friday 28th November 2014, I returned to the Pavilion to see Go! Push Pops’ performance.
It was novel to attend an event inside the park after dark. I tried to look confident as I strode (insanely, it seemed) through the park gates and headed towards the distant lights and sounds of the Pavilion, but really I was ready to bolt at the snap of a twig.
I was relieved to safely reach the Pavilion, which was filled with people, streamers and coloured lights…
I arrived just as the Circle Dance was beginning. The performance was like a magic ritual… a Good Spell, which filled the room with good vibes. (The licensed bar also helped…)
The dancers, resembling a gang of Lady Gagas, seemed to really enjoy themselves, although I guessed the local women who accompanied Go! Push Pops were slighty nervous. But I think their butterflies added frisson.
After the Circle Dance, there was a brief disco:
But council staff were strict about sticking to the 10pm curfew, and then the artists and organisers had to tidy all the decorations away before the building was locked up for the night because any slight movement (of a streamer blowing in a draught) could set off the intruder alarms…
So between 10 and 11pm there were lots of girls in wigs running up and down ladders! I stuck around to stack some chairs and sweep up, and then headed off to Home On The Range at the Carlton Club feeling really, really lucky to live in Whalley Range!