As a photographic artist most of the time I am confined to 2D work. But, not this time!
The final piece of my Me and Mary Eleanor (Bowes) project was this flowing assemblage of flowers and plants. The botany cabinet had lain dormant for over two centuries. Far too precious to be functional in the manner for which it was intended. Now it is the quiet guardian of our heroines story.
The botany cabinet is a totem of female rebellion. The symbol of a woman rising above the patriarchal bondage of her time. Audacious and rapacious in her pursuit of botanical science. At a time when women weren’t allowed into the lectures or to cross the threshold of academic institutions. A time when an educated woman was an unruly problem to be silenced, often physically with contraptions like the scold’s bridle.
In stark contrast to the symbolism of the cabinet, is that of the book “The Confessions of the Countess of Strathmore”. A hideous book written by a woman abused and pressed into self defamation. The same woman who owned the inspirational cabinet, Mary Eleanor Bowes. These two potent objects were the main obsessions that led to the creation of the final works.
The final installation was brilliant. To see printed flowers and plants from her own garden flowing out of the cabinet, well, that was chuffing marvellous for me! A culmination of months of work, obsessing, and idolising.
I had used the insidious book in a physical sense to create prints. Parts of this celebration of intelligence, resilience, and womanhood, were physical acts of defiant appropriation. In a strange cathartic process I was removing the power from the abuser and giving it back to Mary Eleanor.
I want to know all of our hidden female stories. I want our kids to know that women were always there deep in the heart of our culture, unable to shine. Now is our time to reclaim our heritage; and by doing that, we are staking a claim in our future. Autonomy over our bodies. Equal rights to education, equal pay, the end of domestic violence…. and there’s more oppressive things that women still endure today.
Knowledge will aid change.