Mayor of London

Explore artworks inspired by the unsung women heroes of south London.

Unsung heroes
LDN WMN was a temporary series of eye-catching public artworks displayed across London from 18 October 2018. They were created by women and non-binary artists, inspired by unsung women heroes from the city’s history. Curated by Tate Collective in collaboration with the Mayor of London, LDN WMN formed part of the Mayor’s #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign, which marks 100 years since the first women won the right to vote in the UK. Here we explore the women and artwork on display in south London.
Rosa May Billinghurst by Shadi Atallah, Deptford Station
Shadi Atallah’s artwork remembered the legacy of suffragette, Rosa May Billinghurst. Born in 1875, Billinghurst was left unable to walk after a childhood bout of polio and used a hand-propelled tricycle to get around and during suffragette marches. She was an enthusiastic campaigner for women's rights, founding the Greenwich branch of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) was particularly concerned about working conditions for the poor. 

In 1910, a particularly violent demonstration saw police target Billinghurst because of her disability.

After having had her wheelchair and its wheels removed, Rosa bravely returned to the protest the very next day.

Atallah's wall piece is based on simple yet dynamic digital concept drawings of the suffragette.

“My choice are playful and at the same time, purposefully chosen to speak out on serious issues that Billinghurst fought for,” says the artist.

The location

Atallah’s mural took over a wall opposite Deptford Station, close to where Billinghurst worked on a voluntary basis with workhouses in the area, as well as with local children.

The space was provided by Jack Arts – an independent creative out-of-home agency specialising in the arts and culture space.

Jack Arts crafts bold and unconventional campaigns that cause a welcome disruption on the street and runs UK-wide poster schemes as well as one-of-a-kind specialist builds, murals, installations, ambient and experiential campaigns.

The artist

Shadi Al-Atallah creates life-sized paintings - distorted self-portraits that explore the intersections of mental health, queerness and racial identity.

They are mainly inspired by spiritual practices, family history and their childhood in Saudi Arabia.

Their ‘Catharsis’ series explores ‘healing’ as a concept, and examines the relationships between mental health, the body and spiritual practices.

Olive Morris by Rene Matic, Brixton
Rene Matic’s clenched fists stand five feet, two inches high – the exact height of activist Olive Morris. A founding member of the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) in London, Morris spent her life campaigning for British people of colour in London and Manchester – where she set up the Manchester Black Women's Cooperative and Manchester Black Women's Mutual Aid.

The 1970s saw Morris take part in feminist, black nationalist and squatters' rights campaigns, and this activist past, as well as her membership of the British Black Panther Movement, is powerfully represented in this piece.

The work is inscribed with a poem written by the artist about Morris.

“I like the idea of people having to negotiate and weave through this forest of Olivia Morris power in order to enter the building,” she says.

“They stand as a reminder to those who turn a blind eye, and a comfort to those who need a hand.”

The location

Matic's piece was located in the courtyard of the Black Cultural Archives, in Brixton, which is the only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain.

It was founded in 1981 by educationalist and historian Len Garrison and others.

The Brixton building opened in 2013. It enables access to the archive collection, provides dedicated learning spaces and delivers a programme of exhibitions and events.

Morris lived much of her life in South London and had a particular impact in Brixton, where she set up the Brixton Black Women's Group.

The artist

Rene Matić makes work that explores the intersections of her own identity as a queer woman of colour, aiming to expose, combat and question power relations and structures within the art world and society more widely.

Working across genres, her work brings to light (or dark) the fated conflicts and contradictions that one encounters while navigating the world in a body like hers.

Pauline Boty by Julia Vogl, Sutton
Julia Vogl honoured Pauline Boty's role as a founder of British Pop Art with a vibrant, contemporary floor piece. As one of the few female painters in the pop art movement, her often subversive work celebrated femininity and sexuality and wasn't afraid to question the patriarchy. Despite her success in the 1960s, Boty's work was largely neglected until the 1990s when it was rediscovered and rescued from the Kent barn it had been stored in. However, many of her paintings remain lost, including her much sought-after 'Scandal '63'.

Vogl reflects on Boty's role as a key figure in 1970s feminism with an artwork that reflects the playful nature of the artist's work, while encouraging Londoners to explore the piece, and Boty’s legacy, further.

The piece mixes together different techniques including data visualisations, word search, and codified geometric patterns in bright contrasting colours to reflect the facts about her life and career that reference Boty's Pop Art style.

The location

Vogl's piece took over a square on Sutton High Street, as a tribute to Boty's South London birthplace.

It was also close to the Wimbledon College of Arts, known as the Wimbledon School of Art when Boty won a scholarship, aged 16.

It was there that her tutor, Charles Carey, encouraged her to explore the collage techniques which would go on to influence her paintings.

The artist

Julia Vogl has an international practice.

She makes social sculpture, drawings and prints that engage both with site and community.

Public commissions include work with a pretzel trolley in Krakow, a cemetery in Bristol, a school in Hong Kong and a car park in Virginia.

Her work deals with social themes encompassing home, finances, death, identity, protest, mental health and, more recently, immigration and freedom.

Jane Drew by Mamamanvz, Croydon
Mamamanvz's series of posters focused on architect Jane Drew's impact on the architectural field, particularly the representation of women in a male-dominated industry. She designed social and public housing in England, becoming a leading exponent of the Modern Movement in London, as well as working with Maxwell Fry and Le Corbusier to design the capital of Punjab, Chandigarh. 

Drew made a point of only employing women when she first opened her own office – influenced by the many rejections she'd received by architecture firms that didn't hire women.

She also later helped establish the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Mamamanvz's piece focuses on Drew's “unapologetic nature”, with a set of portraits of the architect.

These incorporate architectural patterns from a Chandigarh secondary school designed by Drew, as well as a clear statement of who she was a modernist, architect, author and feminist.

The location

Mamamanvz's sets of poster portraits were located around Box Park Coydon in reference to Drew's Croydon birthplace, as well as the early years of her education in the area.

Boxpark Croydon centres around 80 shipping containers serving up a smorgasbord or great flavours as part of its aim to revitalise Croydon's changing social and dining landscape.

The artist

Mamamanvz creates work that explores her journey of identity and self-discovery as a young British Asian female-identifying artist, negotiating the divide between a traditional cultural background and modern lifestyle, using bold colours and working in a wide range of mixed media.

She finds inspiration in boundary-breaking artists working in all fields influences including M.I.A., Frida Kahlo and Missy Elliott.

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