Corrina Eastwood and Charlotte Elliston, Co-Directors of feminist arts organisation Sweet 'Art, look back on the people who have inspired and guided their work.
Corrina: University of East London Green Gate Art School
Charlotte and I met over 20 years ago at art school. We both studied Fine Art at the University of East London and were lucky enough to complete our studies at Green Gate campus, before the building was turned into flats. An old YMCA building roughly converted into art studios, gallery spaces, workshops and the odd room to sit down in and hear a lecture or two, the place had a very creative and process-led feel. My sense of the art world needing to be an inclusive and non-elitist place for its own good began at Green Gate. UEL had a good inclusion policy and was a school that took those that didn’t necessarily fall into the privileged demographics that going to art school often meant being a part of, even back then.
My cohort was very diverse, with many students from the local, working class area (including Charlotte!). There were large proportions of students from minority groups, as well as mature students and single parents who were studying, working and juggling child care. Our tutors always fostered an atmosphere of inclusivity and a focus on the importance of varying social and cultural perspectives in creating interesting and alive art practice. Years later, Charlotte and I founded Sweet ‘Art, an intersectional feminist arts organisation with a mission of hosting inclusive arts events and projects that privilege the work of marginalised groups in the arts, and address important social issues. I feel the influence of Green Gate in our mission and values as an organisation. Looking back at Christmas parties where the technicians would drunkenly attempt to cook a turkey in the kiln, I also feel the influence of not taking things too seriously too!
Corrina: The Hackney Flashers
The Hackney Flashers were a women’s art collective active in the 70s and 80s. Most described themselves as feminist socialists, and they created work that raised awareness of social and political issues relevant to the times. I became interested in the work of Hackney Flasher Jo Spence and her phototherapy work through my training as an Art Psychotherapist. I felt very influenced by the connections that can be made between art, activism and therapy in relation to social change activity. I still feel the influence of the Hackney Flashers, and of many other groups of women on whose shoulders we stand, and who have made the invisible visible by making art and curating with a political and social purpose.
Corrina: Jennifer Doyle
I have been inspired a great deal by the thoughts of the queer theorist and art critic Jennifer Doyle – specifically, her analysis of how artists work with difficulty and emotion. Her thoughts on feminist curating have also influenced the way in which we approach the curating of our exhibitions at Sweet ‘Art. She makes distinction between feminist curating and curating feminism and highlights the need for feminist curating to provide space in to which one needs no invitation, that expands a sense of what art can do and brakes down boundaries created by authorised experts. She writes of feminist curators who, once they get their foot in the door, will then hold it open for others. Or better still, will pull the door off the hinges and tear down the house! I hope we have been able to internalise much of this important approach to inclusivity in the work we do with Sweet ‘Art.
Charlotte: Dr Sylvia Lahav
After working for 15 years in the luxury retail industry, I decided to make a career change back to the arts and study for an MA in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy at Goldsmiths University. One of the modules I completed (Education, Interpretation and Communication in the Art Museum) was taught by Sylvia, and I loved every minute of it. She has a wonderful depth of knowledge not only of visual art, but also of how different visitors might view the same artwork. Her lectures really taught me to consider what different experiences people might want from visiting an art gallery or museum, and these are considerations we try and build into our Sweet ‘Art exhibitions, offering a variety of interactive elements as well as standard exhibition texts.
Charlotte: The Team at East End Women’s Museum
I started volunteering with East End Women’s Museum on their Working for Equality project, as I grew up in Newham and have lived most of my adult life in Hackney, and know that there is a wealth of interesting stories and amazing women from the East End. I was lucky to meet and work with Sarah Jackson, one of the founding members of the museum, who is inspirational for her passion about amplifying the voices of women. But I’ve also learned so much from Fani Arampatzidou and the other volunteers I worked alongside.
Charlotte: Adele Patrick
After London, Glasgow is one of my favourite cities. Whenever I’ve been there, I’ve made sure I visited Glasgow Women’s Library, as it is one of the best examples of a feminist cultural organisation, with values that ensure it is truly inclusive to all women. In 2018, I paid a visit to see the Linder exhibition with a commission of a film and flag made for the Library. I was very fortunate to hear Adele Patrick, one of the library’s founders, and its Lifelong Learning and Creative Development Manager, speak about the commission and future aims for the Library. She spoke of the need to develop a feminist mode of collecting and curating within a museum. This thought has remained with me. One of Sweet ‘Art’s aims is that our feminism is woven into all aspects of the organisation.
Corrina Eastwood and Charlotte Elliston are co-Directors of Sweet 'Art.