The mural commission was proposed by Alison Little for the Trafford House in Manchester.
The mural design incorporates elements of Sylvia’s work and beliefs which represent a life which was truly courageous. Towards the lower section, we have the icon slogan ‘VOTES FOR WOMEN’ and the colour bands of green and purple which were used throughout the Sufferage Movement. Sylvia’s mother, Emmeline Pankhurst was the leader of the Movement and her daughters followed in her footsteps. The top logo is an adaption of the ‘Angel of Freedom’ motif designed by Sylvia for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Central to the design is the grid, an adaption of the Holloway Brooch, symbolising how she was imprisoned more times than any of the women involved with the reform work. The dove image reflects her views towards pacifist, the traditional symbol of peace. Her philanthropic work is shown through the milk bottles and the distribution centre she set up in London’s East End. Sexual freedom is presented through the red ring, symbolising how she never married. The final image is of an Ethiopian women carrying a child on her back, the last years of Sylvia’s life were spent in the country, again helping the needy.
‘VOTES FOR WOMEN’ is the most iconic slogan of the Suffrage movements fight for equality. The initial slogan was in fact:
‘Will the Liberal Party give votes for women.’
However, the initial banner produced with this phrase was too cumbersome to carry on protest marches so it was reduced into a shorter format. The colour bands of green and purple present around the slogan and to the upper section reflect the colours used by the WSPU. Their colours were purple, white and green, purple as regal colour showing the Royal blood which ran through the veins of every Suffragette, purity is indicated by the white and green be present as an emblem of hope and the symbol of spring. Sylvia’s mother, Emmeline Pankhurst was the leader of the WSPU and the radical campaigner iconic for women winning the vote in Britain. All three of her daughter were strongly involved in the movement and continued to work toward equality after the passing of their mother. They were lifelong campaigners and a truly remarkable family.
The top logo is a simplified adaption of the ‘Angel of Freedom’ designed by Sylvia in 1911 to promote a demonstration to be held at the Royal Albert Hall. Sylvia was initially at Manchester School of Art, located not far from the intended location of the mural, then she travelled down to London the attend the Royal College of Art. Much of her early works reflect her philanthropical interests through the painting of working-class women. As an artist, she was presented with numerous awards, however, inevitably her visual arts work was overshadowed by her Political career and her writings on these subjects. The logo has been minimalised due to the height it is intended to be between 30-35 meters at the top of the mural and the detail will not be seen from ground level. The slight misprint where the purple ring is to one side as opposed to central is to be replicated, this reflects the printing processes of the period where this was commonplace.
The central grid of the mural is a depiction of the Holloway Brooch designed by Sylvia. As a campaigner, Sylvia was imprisoned more times than any of her contemporaries enduring the process of being force-fed. By 1906 she was working full time for the WSPU resulting in months spent in Holloway Prison taking a leading role in the Hunger Strikes. The Holloway Brooch was originally cast in silver, the gates depicted where to represent the Houses of Parliament. It was awarded to WSPU party member who had served sentences in prison and often described as the;
‘Victoria Cross of the Union.’
Be awarded the brooch rewarded to the courage of the women who often spent long sentences in prison, and commonly the women’s prison: Holloway.
The four squares of the gates show images of Sylvia’s beliefs and life’s work. The top image is that of a dove, taken again from a brooch designed by Sylvia to promote peace. She was a dedicated pacifist and from 1910 was continually concerned with the growing levels of militancy used by members of the WSPU and argued with her mother in regards to the mater. This resulted in her braking from the party in 1913 after an arson campaign where the intention was to set fire to the houses of several high profile Politicians. Notably one of these was the Stately home of Lloyd George the current Chancellor of the Exchequer. She was opposed to the break out of the war in 1914 and horrified by her mother and sisters support for the war effort. Speaking at the International Congress of peace held at the Hague in 1915, from this she helped form the Women’s Peace Party. In the years after the First World War, she became a committed anti-fascist: supporting the Republicans in Spain, helped Jews evade Nazi occupation and campaigned against the Italian presence in Ethiopia.
The representation of milk bottles reflects the philanthropic work in which Sylvia threw herself, a notable project being the milk distribution centre for babies who could not digest food in the East End of London. She continually campaigned for better maternity services and for rights for one parent families. During World War One she helped to set up low-cost restaurants in poorer parts of London. To provide jobs for women who had become unemployed by the war she open a toy factory, this also helped to fill the gap for playthings from Germany. More time was committed to campaigns to help poverty-stricken wives of Soldiers at war. The second initiative with milk played an important part in her work in Ethiopia. UNICEF had been giving milk tokens to mothers but these were simply being sold at the market as they were unsure of how to make the milk from formula. Sylvia made arrangements for making the dried milk with UNICEF, the children queue up as a result of efforts. Continuing into the modern day, the Pankhurst and Manchester Women’s Aid centre in Manchester continues this work today with groups of women suffering from domestic abuse.
The image of a red ring, almost scraped on in terms of texture, a ring which does not meet at its ends. This represents the sexual freedom which Sylvia experience in an era where this was socially unacceptable. When studying at the Royal College of Art in London she began an affair with Keir Hardie, a leading Politician for the newly established Labour Party. Although his relationship with his wife looked to have disintegrated the bond he formed with Sylvia still in her twenties would have been considered scandalous. Their relationship continued into the First World, after a series of stokes he died after contracting Pneumonia in 1915. Sylvia was then to meet an exiled communist, Silvio Corio, they became lifelong partners and moved to village-come-suburb of Woodford Green together. Sylvia gave birth to a son at the age of forty-five, her mother tried to persuade her to marry Silvio but she wanted to keep her birth name. They argued over the matter and never spoke again. Other motives may have been that during that period women lost their British Nationality if they were to marry someone from outside the UK. If Sylvia and Silvio had been deported to his native Italian they would probably have been executed on grounds of being anti-fascist protestors. The red ring has always been used as an anti-symbol and the manner in which the ring, potentially a wedding ring, does not join represents her desition not to marry.
An Ethiopian mother and child are pictured in the last image of the Gate, this shows the work Sylvia did for the East African country. In 1935 the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie met with Sylvia in the city of Bath. He was in exile from Ethiopia as they were subsumed by Fascist Italy. Italy had begun building a military presence in East Africa, as a devoted anti-Fascist Sylvia was opposed to this and became a great supporter of Ethiopia. After the Second World War, she raised further objections to Britain’s administration of the South Eastern Ogaden, Ethiopia. Although Britain departed in the mid-fifties she continued to spread the anti-colonial message, moving out to Ethiopia in 1956. She spent her time visiting schools, hospitals and development projects. Dying at the age of seventy-eight and was given a State Funeral being made an Honorary Eithiopian.
The mural is to be completed using artists acrylics after an initial cream coat of masonry paint. This finish to be completed with yacht varnish, preferably brush coated. The artist’s fee would be £1000.00 for the design but would need to be completed by a street artist. The design is ready for delivery but modifications may take several weeks.
Silvia Pankhurst was a revolutionary campaigner which is reflected through this mural and the themes which it covers. It will be in keeping with the modernist aspects of the structure but equally, remind us of the rights which were fought for to give us the better world in which we live. Sexual freedom was a liberty which had to be won, how it is acceptable in contemporary society not to marry and to raise children as part of a one parent family. It will inspire feminist ideological thinking and help us move towards equality for women. Artwork which can motive creativity, thoughts around rights towards incarnation and what is occurring in these institutions which is still as relevant today as it was one hundred years later. Thoughts around pacificism, humanitarianism and Britain’s role as a Nation. Philanthropy and how we can give to others more in need in this country and abroad in countries struck by poverty. Equally, the potential to become was Sylvia truly was: a citizen of the World.
A mural which will inspire, motivate and make a real difference.
Sylvia Pankhurst, A crusading Life
A Comprehensive information source
Susan Homewood for Hornbeam Publishing Limited