Women On Screens: Empowerment and Representation at the Lenthall Road Workshop

Black and white photograph of six women embracing one another and smiling at a fabric printing workshop
Fabric printing workshop for Black women held at Lenthall Road Workshop, 1986. © Lenthall Road Workshop.

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

Empowerment and Representation

The Lenthall Road Workshop challenged the racist, sexist, ableist and stereotypes of the day by putting women’s stories first. The mainstream media was predominantly controlled by white men and the images of women that people saw reflected this.

It was an all-women print workshop run on feminist principles of equal say and sharing responsibilities. The workshop had close connections to different feminist arts, media and activist groups at the time and was a valued contributor to the women’s movement’s culture, resources and ambitions.

The trope of the hairy-legged, bra-burning, man-eating feminist was hauled out each time even a basic issue like equal pay or abortion was raised. This seems to be recurrent as women once again raise their voices on their own behalf.

Chia Moan, Worker

a bright pink and green poster made at the Lenthall Road Workshop, showing a large face grinning as they hold up a spoon containing a collage of images of men
The New Misandry, 1980. Designed by Chia Moan. A parody of a breakfast cereal advert, this poster was intended to poke fun at the man hating caricature of feminists popularised in the media.
© Lenthall Road Workshop

Images Of Us

The Lenthall Road Workshop aimed to produce images that challenged the norm of ‘White, male, middleclass, able-bodied heterosexual which glare from every hoarding, magazine and TV’.

Even more importantly, it created a much-needed space for women and girls to creatively explore together how they wanted to be represented and be empowered in doing so. They made posters that celebrated women’s experiences, their power, friendships, sexuality and creativity.

The Lenthall Road Workshop also inspired women and girls to gain confidence in technical skills by learning photography, using the darkroom and making screen-prints. By the mid-1980s the workshop would become an important creative space for African and Caribbean women, reflecting the connections of the collective at the time.

The idea behind this imagery was to celebrate the vitality, warmth and comradeship amongst Black women, which is in contrast to the ‘femininity’ of stereo typed model pictures taken from fashion magazines.

Barbara Tombs, Worker

Blue and white poster, made at the Lenthall Road Workshop,  for a series of workshops for black women 'Images of Us'
Poster advertising a series of workshops for Black women, 1986. Designed by Barbara Tombs. Bishopsgate Institute FL/POS/150.
© Lenthall Road Workshop
Visual Representation in a Digital Age

The struggle continues today for the empowerment of women and girls and for media images that represent our diversity in all its forms.

Digital technology and online platforms make it much easier to create our own images and share them publicly. However, they can also bring new pressures, and businesses such as Instagram and Facebook decide what images you can show.

For women and girls to have genuine freedom of self-expression and representation today, we need to come together to discuss what we want and learn the skills to make our own platforms.

We hope this exhibition inspires you to do so.

Former Lenthall Road Workers
Poster, made at the Lenthall Road Workshop, depicting two women, one on a bicycle while another in a wheelchair
Rolling Sisters, c. 1983. Print & design Nina Nissen. Nina and Daniela Von Raffay are shown travelling around Hackney.
© Lenthall Road Workshop

Content for this blog has been created in collaboration with former Lenthall Road 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.