Women artists in Wales featured in new book and exhibition
It was standing room only at West Wales Arts Centre in Fishguard on Saturday, as artists and art-lovers came together for the launch of a new book celebrating the work of women artists currently working in Wales.
HON: Artistiaid Benywaidd yng Nghymru / Women Artists in Wales 2022 is a fully bilingual book produced by The H’mm Foundation that across over 300 pages showcases the work and words of a diverse group of ten women artists from across Wales working in a range of media from painting and textiles to sculpture and video.
The launch was hosted by Ali Anwar, CEO of The H’mm Foundation, who along with poet Menna Elfyn wrote an introduction to the book.
Three of the featured artists, Christine Kinsey, Sarah Williams, and Julia Griffiths-Jones, spoke about their work featured in the book and on display in the gallery.
Christine Kinsey, who also edited the book, has been an important figure on the Welsh arts scene for over half a century, having co-founded Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff in 1971.
She described the book as a platform for a wide range of women artists to have a voice they are not normally given by national and international institutions, “and for us to be able to see the world around us through the female imagination. HON is a major step forward in that work.”
On the threshold
The second speaker, Sarah Williams continues to live and work in Pembrokeshire, where she was born and raised, and spoke movingly about her conversations with women across the county, two of whose life-size painted cut-out figures are included in the exhibition.
The history of the region, the loss of old ways of life, and the decline of Cymraeg have been central themes of her work.
However, Sarah took us on a linguistic tour of regional Welsh and its ancient borrowings from other tongues to show, as she put it, that “there are a multitude of identities that are woven into the fabric of Pembrokeshire.”
Her work offers a vision of transformation that sees change from the old ways not just in terms of loss, but as a ‘liminal’ space: the Welsh expression she uses in the book is ‘ar y trothwy’ which means ‘on the threshold.’
Sarah’s art invites us to ask ourselves where we want that threshold to lead.
Julia Griffiths-Jones took us on an artistic tour, with drawings and textile works that draw on folk-art from across Europe and beyond, drawing connections between, for example, the artistic symbols of embroidery in Slovakia and traditional Welsh costume in the National Woollen Museum.
Julia spoke about how those influences from traditional arts and crafts especially associated with women fed into her large scale wire-work piece “Room Within a Room” that won a Gold Medal and the most popular exhibit prize at the 2017 Eisteddfod.
Finally, Christine Kinsey returned to speak about her two paintings on display, influenced by women in Beirut who made wedding dresses from paper and “hung them between trees as a protest against women being forced to marry the man who raped them.”
She described the importance of art and artists as ‘bearing witness’, and in the book she writes of her images being a way of “Dwn Tystoliaeth / Bearing Witness to the sexual abuse perpetrated against women, together with the discrimination many women suffer across the world who are excluded from fully participating in society because their voices have been silenced.”
Gallery-goers were able to get their hands on the first copies of ‘HON’, signed by the artists present.
Printed by Gwasg Gomer, who also work with the likes of the Folio Society, ‘HON’ has the luxurious look and feel of a coffee-table book, but it certainly deserves to be more than just looked at.
In the words of the introduction, “this book will open our eyes to the testimonies of ten remarkable artists who also identify with and feel part of a community and nation that is open to new diverse ideas.”
Other ‘HON’ launch events are planned across Wales in the coming months, with different combinations of the featured artists speaking and exhibiting their work.
Ali Anwar also revealed plans for further annual editions of HON that will continue engagement with women artists in Wales and expand the outward looking nature of this first volume by including contributions from women artists across the world.
Work from the launch event will continue to be exhibited at West Wales Art Centre in Fishguard until next weekend. The H’mm Foundation hopes to have direct ordering available for its books soon. In the meantime, you can email [email protected] to buy a copy of ‘HON’, priced at £26:00.
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