Women On Screens: Activism and the Lenthall Road Workshop

Black and white photograph of women in a park holding a banner reading 'Women Oppose the Nuclear Threat Dalston W.O.N.T'
Women’s Anti-nuclear march, 1980s. © Lenthall Road Workshop.

This series explores the history of the radical visual imagery created at the Lenthall Road Workshop in Haggerston between the 1970s – 1990s. These images were made collectively and tell stories of activism, skill sharing and empowerment.

Introduction

The Lenthall Road Workshop started at a time of dynamic community activism. Local people in Hackney and elsewhere were campaigning for better housing, play spaces for children, more cultural resources, and against cuts in local services.

The Lenthall Road Workshop empowered people fighting for change in Hackney and beyond, supporting many groups to creatively publicise their events and demands. They worked with groups tackling other social and political issues of the time, from the Anti-Nuclear movement to the Miners’ Strike.

In 1981, at the height of the Cold War, the British government agreed to base American missiles at a Royal Airforce base at Greenham Common, Berkshire. The decision led to a mass movement of British women against nuclear weapons, and an encampment at Greenham Common that lasted over a decade. A branch of the organisation Women Oppose Nuclear Threat (WONT) was set up in Dalston.

Astrid Proll had been an early member of the Baader-Meinhof gang, a West German anti-capitalist group that employed violent methods such as fire bombings. After fleeing to Britain in the early 1970s, Astrid worked under the false name Anna Puttick at Lesney’s factory in Hackney Wick, and as a park-keeper for Hackney Council. Following her arrest in 1978, many of her friends in the borough campaigned and fundraised against her extradition to West Germany.

Pink, black and white poster featuring female dancers advertising the event 'Freedom for Astrid, Freedom for everyone'
Poster advertising a fundraising event for the Friends of Astrid Proll. Designed by Chia Moan.
© Lenthall Road Workshop

A Creative Hub

People travelled from beyond Hackney to use this valuable resource. It was a creative hub in a network of political and cultural activists, locally and across the city. Different workers and users would bring new issues and connections to the workshop.

Black lesbian and gay groups began to emerge in the early 1980s in Britain. They provided advice, support and resources for those facing homophobia, racism and sexism. In 1985, with support from the Greater London Council, the first Black Lesbian and Gay Centre was opened in the UK.

The early 1980s saw the creation of many new ‘Black’ women’s groups which campaigned on issues such as domestic violence and Stop and Search Laws. But African and Caribbean lesbian women faced further exclusion, leading to the creation of Britain’s first Black Lesbian Conferences. Britain’s first Black Lesbian conference was held in London in 1985 and attended by over 200 women of African and Asian descent.

Screen printed poster featuring two women, one Femi Otitoju, with the word for lesbian in different languages around them.
Poster advertising the 1985 Black Lesbian conference.
Designed by Ingrid Pollard.
© Lenthall Road Workshop
Organising For Change

The posters created at Lenthall Road Workshop reflect the many different movements organising for cultural, social and political change in 1970s and 1980s Britain, and show the important role of the workshop in communicating and enabling those struggles.

Reclaim the Night was a movement expressing women’s anger at being kept off public streets by the threat of male violence. Hundreds of women took part in the first march in Leeds 1977 after police advised women to stay inside after dark during the murders of women by Peter Sutcliffe.

One of Audre Lorde’s poems talks about the master’s tools will never dismantle a master’s house. I think there was a real conscious use of imagery to use not the master’s tools, but women’s tools, which were traditionally the broom and the vacuum cleaner.

It was about looking at power and agency differently, and using women’s ways to create change.

Suzy Stiles, Lenthall Road Workshop Worker
Poster showing a drawing of women marching holding brooms with the text 'Reclaim the Night! Sweep men off the streets!'
Reclaim the Night Poster, 1980. Designed by Suzy Stiles.
© Lenthall Road Workshop

Content for this blog has been created in collaboration with former Lenthall Road Workshop workers: Claudette Johnson, Ingrid Pollard, Nicole Superville, Barbara Tombs, Rebecca Wilson with Jess Baines of See Red.

It featured in the exhibition ‘Women on Screens: Printmaking, photography and community activism at Lenthall Road Workshop 1970s–1990s’ at Hackney Museum 14 May – 31 August 2019.