TW: domestic violence, sexual violence, femicide.
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The epidemic of violence against women has been intensified by the outbreak of COVID-19. One woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK. Domestic abuse, femicide, and other forms of oppression of women happen because of the violent misogyny that pervades our society. This is a truth that intersectional feminist collective Feminist Collages London are forcing people to confront through their slogans and activism. Inspired by their instagram @feminist_collages_london, Eliot Lambert got in touch with Angélina, a member of the collective, to find out more.
E: Can you tell me about how your collective first started?
A: It is a branch off a wider movement that started in Paris in early 2019. What happened that year was that one feminist activist in Paris started doing these actions, so she would just paint letters on A4 sheets of paper then paste the slogans on walls. It started out as a way to raise awareness about femicide, which was an issue in France that wasn’t really talked about much in the media. Just like in the UK, it wasn’t really talked about as a systemic oppression kind of thing. Initially, it was mainly to write the names of the victims as a way to honour and remember them. This girl started out on her own, then invited other activists to join, and created a group called Feminist Collages in Paris. From there, it just kept on growing, and different groups started being created in a bunch of cities in France, and then the idea spread elsewhere – so that’s how the London branch started. It was a friend of mine, in December 2019, who saw that this was happening in France, and she was like, this is really cool, why is there nothing happening like this in London? And so, she started a branch, and as soon as I saw it, I joined. It’s been growing ever since.
E: How does your collective operate? How often do you create slogans and put them up?
A: We used to go out once a week, and then recently, before the lockdown, it was about twice a week, because the group grew quite a lot, so there were more people and therefore we could split up and do different days. Basically, the movement has no hierarchy; it’s a horizontal movement, so we decide on actions and slogans together, and we discuss everything with voting. Sometimes, the slogans might be on a particular theme, depending on if there is anything on the news that we’d like to do something about. general, so again about femicide. Although it’s not just about this topic anymore, it’s been expanded to any form of sexism, or any form of oppression that intersects with sexism, such as the misogynoir.
E: What does intersectionality mean to your movement and why is it so important?
A: Intersectionality is important to our movement because we feel that feminist movements aren’t that inclusive of gender minorities, so we wanted to create a safe space for everyone affected by misogyny – be it cis-women, or trans people, or queer people in general who don’t really fit the norm, as well as racial minorities, who are often overlooked in feminism. It’s important to understand that there are different levels of oppression; it’s not about creating a pyramid and saying I’m more oppressed than you, it’s just about understanding how all of these things are very intricately linked. The last thing we want is to put people in boxes and separate them, so it’s a way to say that we are all united and we all have a common purpose, let’s say mission, that we’ve given ourselves.
E: A lot of your work seems to address domestic abuse. Do you work directly or indirectly with women affected by domestic abuse, sexual violence, or other forms of oppression?
A: We don’t work directly with victims, it can happen, but what we mainly do is act as a sort of go-between. For example, one woman contacted us and said that she was experiencing domestic abuse, then we spread the word and tried to find a place for her to stay. That’s something we did during the last lockdown; we did an action to raise awareness on domestic violence and the fact that being locked at home isn’t safe for some women and other oppressed people. We also announced that if anyone was in danger or needed a place to stay urgently, they could contact us, because within the group there were a few people who had rooms available to host people for a few days, or we could redirect them to a refuge.
E: Would you call your slogans art?
A: I tend to view them as a form of street art, even though we don’t present ourselves as artists or as an art movement at all. I think that to do so would put them into a box and maybe discourage people from joining, if they felt that the actions were too artsy and something that wasn’t really for them, whereas this is a very accessible way of doing things, as it’s just black paint and A4 paper, and anyone can do it. We want it to be DIY and open to anyone, so I think the aim of the movement, and how easy it is to go on actions, is to show that activism is accessible, and that anyone can be an activist if they want to – if they are willing to put in the work, the passion, and the commitment.
E: I think that’s exactly what drew me to your Instagram page, that your actions seem very accessible. What’s the significance of the actions taking place on the street?
A: The street is symbolic for a few reasons. First of all, it’s somewhere that you find people from all backgrounds, so everyone will be confronted by the slogans, be they the oppressed or the oppressor. So, in that way, it’s kind of the biggest platform really that we could use. Also, the street at night, because we do these actions at night, is usually a time and place when women and minorities feel unsafe, so to go out in a group is taking the power back, and says that the street also belongs to us, by using the street politically.
E: I love how you’ve renamed roads after inspirational feminists, such as ‘Audre Lorde Lane’. I read recently, for the first time, Audre Lorde’s essay ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House’, and I wanted to ask what tools you use to dismantle the patriarchy?
A: I think the method of the whole movement falls into the category of civil disobedience. You can’t use something that has been used by the oppressor in a good way, because fundamentally the reason why the oppressor’s tools have been used and originated are for oppression. So, you can’t really turn back and say I’m going to use the same tools, but because I do it, it’s going to be powerful. That’s just my belief; it’s not going to work; it’s not going to bring about change in the long term. So, that would be the more reformist approach, as opposed to revolutionary, and I think within the movement we are more in the revolutionary mindset. We want to put out strong slogans and then really confront people with the truth. And if these people are privileged, maybe they’ll become aware of their privileges, and if they’re underprivileged, they’ll hopefully feel some sort of connection and know that they’re not alone.
E: How can those interested join the movement or show their solidarity?
A: The movement is open to anyone who is not cis-male, and if you go on our Instagram page, you can send us a direct message, and we’ll be in touch, and we’ll make sure that you know what to do and how to participate in an action. If you don’t feel ready to go out with us and stick, you can share our work, spread the word – that’s really important. We also have a legal defence fundraiser just in case something goes wrong, but also to purchase equipment if one of us doesn’t have the means to do so. That’s all on our Instagram in our bio if you want to find out more about us. The other thing is, if someone thinks this is a really good idea, and they don’t live in London, they can start their own movement, all they need is maybe a few friends or they can even do it alone at first, and then we can share that there is a new group in another city – that’s how the London one started.
(images from @feminist_collages_london page)
If you are inspired by their action, then all you need to make slogans is:
black paint or pen
wheatpaste (made out of flour and water – a cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative to glue)
If anyone is interested in starting a Bristol feminist collages collective, then get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org