From Suffrage Propaganda to Tracey Emin's Project in Aid of Vulnerable Women

Suffrage propaganda inspired Tracey Emin to set up a secret postcard sale in aid of vulnerable women

BY Anny Shaw in Frieze Week Magazine | 04 OCT 18

In 1950, the Suffragette Fellowship donated the world’s largest archive relating to the militant wing of the suffrage campaign to what was then the London Museum. Now in the care of the Museum of London, this gift included several hundred postcards, produced by both campaigners for women’s rights and those who opposed them.

To mark 2018’s centenary of voting rights for women in the UK and Germany (and the fact there are still places in the world where women can’t or find it difficult to vote), the British artist Tracey Emin has chosen 70 of these historical postcards to be displayed in the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management Lounge at Frieze Masters 2018.

Emin has also approached all the contemporary female artists in the Deutsche Bank Collection to create postcards inspired by women’s suffrage, which are being exhibited and sold anonymously to raise funds for vulnerable women, especially victims of domestic violence. The postcard sale forms part of a larger project, Another World, an exhibition of 59 works by female artists selected by Emin and her studio from the Deutsche Bank Collection.

The vintage postcards ‘cover the whole gamut of Edwardian life’, says Beverley Cook, curator of social and working history at the Museum of London. Images range from the sensational – a 1907 photograph of ‘a Lancashire lass in clogs and shawl’ being escorted by police from a demonstration outside the House of Commons in Westminster – to the nasty, such as the cartoon of a “typical” suffragette, depicted wearing masculine clothing including a tie and a pork pie hat: garments traditionally associated with lesbianism.

In the early 20th century, such mockery was commonplace. Commercial postcard makers often characterised suffragettes as harridans, or wives and mothers who had abandoned

their duties. Even so, Cook says, ‘they were not what you would call formal “anti-suffrage” they were more like comic postcards’. With multiple postal deliveries a day in some parts of Britain at this time, postcards were used to relay short messages, like text messages today. ‘For the suffrage campaigners, it was all about getting the message into the home’, Cook says. ‘The suffragettes were really clever at tapping into what was already popular, so rather than inventing a new form of merchandising they developed branding around things they knew would sell’.

Many of the works for the pro-suffrage campaign were produced by two artist groups, Suffrage Atelier and the Artists’ Suffrage League, whose postcards were available in suffrage shops in nearly every high street in Britain. There are no figures detailing how much exactly the postcards raised for the suffrage movement, but Cook says even small amounts ‘added to the war chest’. The sheer number of cards in the museum’s collection is a good measure of their success, she adds.

For Cook, and many women working across the art world, the campaign remains relevant 100 years on. This year – inspired by the suffrage postcards, as well as the Royal College of Art’s annual fund-raising secret postcard exhibition to which she contributes every year – Emin wrote to the more than 500 living female artists in the Deutsche Bank Collection, asking them to contribute up to four unique postcard-sized original works each.

The postcards will be on view in the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management Lounge at Frieze London 2018 and online. Each will sell for just £200, at which point the identity of their creator will be revealed. Proceeds from the sale will be used to establish the Tracey Emin & Deutsche Bank Centenary Fund, which will in turn aid organisations that support vulnerable women in London and in Margate, where Emin grew up and now has a studio.

More than 220 artists have responded to the call from Emin, resulting in contributions of over 800 postcard-sized artworks. Among them is the Turner Prize-nominated British artist Catherine Yass, who drew on images of suffragette marches she found on the internet. ‘I was thinking about the struggle they went through to get the vote’, she says. ‘Now we’ve got the vote, what has changed? Have we done enough? What would they say to us now if they were around?’

Yass observes how the recent demonstrations against Brexit and Donald Trump differ from the CND ones she marched in during the 1980s. ‘Back then there was a lot more anger. Now I think people know it isn’t going to change much but they go anyway’, she says. ‘Even if we know we are not going to make massive changes, as with the miners’ strike, we have to voice what we believe in.’

What shocked the Berlin-based contributing artist, Larissa Fassler, when she began researching the suffrage movement was ‘the vehemence and violence and anger of the anti-suffrage campaign’, she says. ‘It made me think about how the suffragettes then chose to respond with violent acts’.

While the anti-suffrage campaign portrayed women as ‘big, fat and dumb’, Fassler observes, men were often ridiculed too. ‘They showed the men as if they were being pussy-whipped – which is funny because if you tweaked some of those images, you’d get the ideal husband’, she quips.

Reflecting on the recent renewed push to make abortion illegal across the US and the potential effect of Brexit on women’s rights has made Fassler reconsider her relatively protected position. ‘I have enjoyed these freedoms all my life and I haven’t really fought for them. Perhaps now it’s time’, she says.

This article appeared in Frieze Week London 2018

Main image: Anonymous postcards from the Another World charity postcard sale

Anny Shaw is a writer and editor. She lives in Brighton, UK.