‘nid byd, byd heb wybodaeth’
‘a world without knowledge is no world’
Arcade Cardiff Residency
(Reflection and inspiration) Visit to The Big Pit.
Once in the pit the cage opened and we spilled out. We were met with black walls braced with wood. We were introduced to the widow maker and the coal carts, and shown where the pit ponies lived. A 9 year old girl on a school trip asked our ex-miner guide ‘Who pushed the carts?’
Women, he answered.
Brilliant! I thought.
But he continued ‘But they were stopped in 1842, too much talking. They were stopped by the same man that stopped boys going up chimneys.’
And that was the trips first and last mention of women in the 2004 years of The Big Pit’s history.
This excursion inspired me to explore the largely un-mined seams of herstory, to bring to the surface the realities of Welsh mining life from a female perspective.
‘Nid byd, byd heb wybodaeth’ is a quotation from the book Our Sisters Land which, along with other texts Struggle or Starve, edited by Carol White and Sian Rhiannon Williams; an essay in Our Mothers land, counting the cost of coal by Dot Jones; and a short fictional story by Clare Potter entitled The Coping Stone, provide a focus for the research and visual response.
The work explores aspects of domesticity, death, sacrifice, hunger and lose.
Mackerel on His Lips
This piece is referencing a story in the book Struggle or Starve, a collection of true accounts of life from women in mining valleys. The story tells of a miner’s wife so consumed with hunger she eats the maceral dinner she left warming for her husband. He returns home so intoxicated that when he asks for his meal she is able to rub the fish oil on his lips. She tells him that he has already eaten it, and that he should lick his lips.
My sister was a little mother; however, we did not grow up in the welsh mining valley’s. The ceramic figure and her baby were made in light of the history of little mothers in mining towns. Children that walked in the cold shoes of their mother.
50lb iron baby
The weight was paramount to the piece, responding to a personal letter from a miner’s wife recorded in the essay Counting the Coast of Coal, by Dot Jones in Our Mothers Land. The torrent of weight involved in the daily grind and heavy loss of infant life.
The Iron On The Dress.
Iron On The Dress is in response to Amy Dillwyn’s first steps of divorcing societal restraints and expectations. Many times she refers to herself as molten metal, a furnace. The act of pouring metal over the dress alludes to the developing world of industry in Amy’s later life and the breaking out from conforming, moving from the path that was set onto one of her own making, and the celebration of this road she carved for herself.
Le jeu ne valait pas la chandelle
Le jeu ne valait pas la chandelle was the first piece of work created in response to the life and fiction of Amy Dillwyn. The piece considers the death of Llewellyn her fiancé, and arguably the liberation of Amy from the life of marriage. The body is dressed replicating a funeral described in the novel Jill, embracing the stripped-back simple nature of death in contrast to the Victorian obsession of the time. Death also seemed integral to her liberation from the societal restraints upon women, and also recognition of her individuality.
The Pieces Of Me
Amy Dilwyn kept diaries throughout her life. The Pieces of Me are mono-prints of one personal diary that had large sections cut out. In removing these pieces, Dilwyn appears to be editing herself from or for herself.
Amy often used clothes to illustrate limits and cultural restraints. This was evident in the novel Jill, both when the character Kitty needed to remove her clothes to escape from her captives, and also when Jill wanted to play mud-larking as a child. In both circumstances she removed the debilitating factor, her clothes. In this pieces, I took this literally and removed parts of the 100 year old wedding dress and nailed the fabric to body parts illustrating the cultural restrictions Amy alludes to in the form clothes. These were later cast in iron.
“Take me as you find me; if there’s no harm in it then there is nothing wrong with it
And I am not ashamed of being myself.” Amy Dillwyn, Painting (1987)
Cover her up
‘Cover her up’ is a response to this short story told in a time when marriage and children was the only way and anything else was considered a wasted life.
The short story The Buddhist Priest’s Wife written by Olive Schreiner (1855-1920) is arguably a conversation between the socio-culturally constructed genders portrayed through an intimate dialogue between the female protagonist and her male counterpart in which one is saying goodbye to the other. In this exchange, both characters smoke consistently and discuss the reasons for the protagonist’s imminent departure. The pair discuss societal life, marriage and death with their regards to how these are affected by their respective genders. The cultural patriarchal ideal that women should marry, have children and be subservient to men is challenged by the woman. This sentiment is encapsulated when the woman talks of the liberation from her sex through the act of death.
‘Death means so much more to a woman than a man; when you knew you were dying, to look round on the world and feel the bond of sex that has broken and crushed you all your life gone, nothing but human left, no woman any more, to meet everything on perfectly even ground.”
Elizabeth Andrews To Do Pile 2016
Elizabeth Andrews was born in Penderyn, Rhondda Cynon Taf in 1882.
After first hand experience of the horrid mining conditions within Rhondda communities like those under the Cory family, in 1919 Andrews worked as a campaigner for mining families of the Rhondda valley. The introduction of pitthead showers were largely down to her, with the help of two other miners wives giving evidence of the working life’s of women in the mining communities to the Sankey commission.
Caring “passionately about the suffering she saw around her and vowed to change the lot of miners’ wives in the South Wales valleys”, she helped outline the poor social conditions such as:
Over crowded homes.
High death rate of their children.
The lifting, carrying and moving of boiling water often resulting in scalding’s.
High miscarriage rate.
Constant drying of clothes in small damp kitchens having detrimental effects on family health.
The Princess 2015
The Princess, 2016
Princess Gwenllian gave her life trying to defend Kidwelly castle from the Norman invasion in 1135. She steered her army and her two eldest sons Morgan and Maelgwn from the safety of the surrounding forests of upper Tywi valley to Kidwelly castle, but the princess and her army were over-powered by the Norman invasion. Gwenllian lost her son Morgan who was still a teenager in the battle. Once captured, she was used as an example before being beheaded for treason.
Her bravery and loss of her son inspired the sculpture entitled The Princess. The figure kneels at the window in mourning of her lost son, but cannot leave to be at rest alongside him. She kneels, looking out over Kidwelly still on guard to protect the castle.