The London based See Red Women’s Workshop came to life in 1973 and finally stopped producing artworks / posters in 1990. This women-only printing collective was foundered on the premise of counteracting and challenging the negative imagery focusing on females in the media and the advertising industry, later supporting a wide range of community projects.
Part of the ethos of the collective was to create a positive environment for women to work within the group, which in turn reflected the feminist politics of the age. Many of those involved had already experienced women’s consciousness raising groups and had also previously worked in radical groups. In turn, the artwork that was produced was not credited to a single artist but regarded as a collective effort. This lack of ego, individualism and hierarchy, with a focus on the collective was certainly viewed as connecting to ideas of sisterhood and indicative of women-only collaboration.
It is imperative to recognise the primary value of the women-only space that was utilised by the collective. This provided a sense of unity for the women printmakers and artists, enabling an atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust in which the sharing of knowledge and skills was the foundation of the work they created.
The group aimed to produce posters which would reflect the politics of the women’s liberation movement. Many of the posters produced were based on the personal lives of the women involved, such as issues of oppression regarding childcare, work or domestic situations. This highlighting of the common experiences of women of the era was clearly vital, not only in creating recognisable imagery, but in terms of bringing visual understanding to the feminist politics of women’s liberation.
Many of the issues the posters raised, in turn, are still very relevant to women/feminism today and the work of See Red Women’s Workshop, therefore, is both timeless and highly valuable. The poster ‘My Wife Doesn’t Work’ (below), for example highlights the ongoing issue of undervalued female domestic labour and inequality in the home.
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Ceija Stojka (1933 – 2013) was an Austrian-Romani painter, in addition to being a writer and musician. She was also a survivor of the Holocaust. Ceija spent the later years of her life creating artworks to raise awareness of the more than a million Roma estimated to have been murdered under the rule of the Nazis.
The painter’s haunting and deeply disturbing imagery recalls how Ceija and her family were the target of the Nazis, interned in Dachau, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. In the four years of suffering the artist endured, almost 200 members of her extended family perished.
During this period Romani people were forced to register as members of another “race” and their campgrounds were enclosed by fences and patrolled by police. In 1941, at which time Ceija was 8 years old, her father was deported to the Dachau concentration camp. He was later murdered. In 1943 Ceija and her remaining family were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a Nazi death camp for Romani people. Here Ceija’s mother saved her life by insisting her ten year old child was in fact sixteen and thus able to work. The family literally lived in the shadow of the gas chambers, under constant threat of hunger, torture and death. Ceija was twelve years old by the time the concentration camp was liberated in 1945.
(“Mama in Auschwitz”)
After the war there was little acknowledgement of the suffering the Roma community had endured. In fact Roma persecution continued in the post war period and beyond. Ceija did not begin painting until the age of fifty six, but her intent was to highlight the humanity and plight of her people by focusing on her own experiences. Ceija’s paintings range from a nostalgic view of Romani life before WW2 to the highly disturbing experience of Nazi rule and the death camps. Her work may be described as a hybrid between folk art and German expressionism, a highly disturbing contrast between the simplistic and childlike and the horror of her subject matter.
‘Even Death is Afraid of Auschwitz’ is an example of her work, a series of ink drawings and gouaches that the painter worked on throughout the 1980s, which graphically convey the full horror of Nazi atrocities.
The artwork and writing of the inspiring Ceija Stojka are not simply the legacy of her own suffering and survival, but, in turn, have brought international attention to the previously largely ignored Roma genocide under Nazi rule.
Ceija Stojka (1933 – 2013)