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Courage, tenacity and creativity of Greenham protest women highlighted in new exhibition at mac

Award winning painter Dr Sally Payen, presents her continued exploration and research of conflict, protest, politics and the contested landscape in her new exhibition entitled: The Fence and the Shadow. Taking inspiration from the women’s peace camp and anti-nuclear protests of the 80s, which fought against the government’s decision to base US cruise missiles in the UK at RAF Greenham Common,  these current, very uncertain times, again brings this issue sharply into focus.

Payen’s exhibition of paintings focus on the tenacity, creativity and strength of the women, whilst acknowledging how their creative resistance continues to influence and change current world issues today. In addition, Payen was given special permission to access a unique archive, documenting all aspects of the Greenham Common Peace Camp activities, with a selection of the artefacts now on view to the public for the first time at the exhibition.  TheFence and the Shadow opens on Saturday 23 September to Sunday 26 November in MAC’s First Floor Gallery and leads a programme of events as part of its Women & Protest season.

Growing up in Berkshire, Dr Payen’s interest in the women of Greenham started at the age of 18 – she regularly cycled around the site, becoming aware of the protest and actions of the women who dedicated their lives, albeit temporarily, to a cause that empowered them to instigate change. Three years in the making, Dr Payen has taken inspiration from the artefacts and the many conversations she had with the women who took part in the protests, notably Lynette Edwell. They were able to articulate the passion, sights, sounds and smells of the camp. In addition, the exhibition highlights the emergence of craftivism – the physical creations that adorned the dividing fence, symbolising the women’s peaceful, ongoing fight for change through fabric, wool and found objects.

Within the accompanying exhibition catalogue, an essay written by Matt Prince, describes one of the key pieces: The Fence and the Shadow  thus: ‘....staring at the siIhouette of a military helicopter coming in to land against a bleak grey sky....the painting is virtually life size, enhancing this sense of the viewer being right there in person. Indeed, it’s as if we are among, or one of the protesters.’

As a self-described process led artist, Dr Payen explains how this approach is manifested within her exhibition, she states: ‘I build myself into the object of painting. For instance, building paintings from the ground up felt connected to the women’s peace camp in the sense of it being leaderless without hierarchy, nearer to the earth and without patriarchy...’

Symbolism and spirituality feature throughout Dr Payen’s work, red flowers, reminiscent of Mattise’s paper cut out flowers, also created by the camp women, represent blood and a life force. Doves feature across several pieces – representing the global peace movement.

Dr Payen explains the symbolism – and the significance of the fence, stating: ‘The fence work is more about symbolism and women on the outside looking in. And the shadow is about what was inside Greenham, shining out in all its blackness and wanting to create this contrast, making work that was abstract and alluding to things with a different purpose. I wanted to make work exploring the line; in my paintings the line was about the fence, climbing through the fence but also about the landscape, the weather and air craft arriving.’

Commenting on her pleasure and the opportunity to exhibit at MAC, Dr Payen said: ‘MAC has a great history of working with exhibitions around conflict, last year they exhibited work by Peter Kennard and Barbara Walker. It’s very exciting to be showing at an arts centre as lots of people from diverse backgrounds visit regularly. It’s an honour also to have instigated a whole season of connected events and activities including craftivism workshops and speaker engagements, Greenham films, and a seminar. This will all help to increase the discussion of ideas and action. Art used to engage and motivate change – the influence of the Greenham women lives on.’

The Fence and the Shadow is supported by Arts Council England, The John Feeney Charitable Trust and the Elmley Foundation, and is curated by independent curator Mandy Fowler in partnership with MAC.

For press enquiries contact Marcia Springer, Communications Manager at MAC on 0121 446 3237 or email marcia.springer@macbirmingham.co.uk.

Image: Invisible Woman and the Telephonic Tree - courtesy the artist Sally Payen

The fence work is more about symbolism and women on the outside looking in. And the shadow is about what was inside Greenham, shining out in all its blackness and wanting to create this contrast, making work that was abstract and alluding to things with a different purpose. I wanted to make work exploring the line; in my paintings the line was about the fence, climbing through the fence but also about the landscape, the weather and air craft arriving.’

Dr Sally Payen

MAC has a great history of working with exhibitions around conflict, last year they exhibited work by Peter Kennard and Barbara Walker. It’s very exciting to be showing at an arts centre as lots of people from diverse backgrounds visit regularly. It’s an honour also to have instigated a whole season of connected events and activities including craftivism workshops and speaker engagements, Greenham films, and a seminar. This will all help to increase the discussion of ideas and action. Art used to engage and motivate change – the influence of the Greenham women lives on.'

Dr Sally Payen

A selection of associated events