When the See Red Women’s Workshop was first conceived of in 1973, co-founded by three former art students who met after an advert was printed in radical feminist magazine Red Rag,the full extent of its potential power could scarcely be understood. “At the first meeting were a photographer, an illustrator, a cartoonist, graphic designers, artists and a filmmaker,” the collective writes inSee Red Women’s Workshop, a new Four Corners Books-published tome documenting the movement. By the time it closed in 1990, some 45 women had passed through the ranks of the collective, and over its 16 years in operation, though rocked repeatedly by shortages in funding, changes of location, acts of vandalism on equipment, and violent conflict in cultural consciousness, persisted in creating bright silkscreen-printed posters for the women’s liberation movement. The result is a truly revolutionary archive.
The group placed a heavy emphasis on sharing skills, ideas and knowledge, and in doing so, it also raised members’ hopes about what could be achieved. “Ambitiously, See Red were not about selling a product or even getting over a party political message,” writes Sheila Rowbotham in the book’s foreword. “They were up to something far more complex and far more difficult. They aimed to convey ideas about a transformed society in which relations of gender, race and class would no longer be marked by inequality and subordination. Those messages on the posters, ‘so long as women are not free, the people are not free’ and ‘lesbians are everywhere’ contested the prevailing ‘common sense’.” Many of these historical artworks can be seen in the book’s pages, along with comment from the group throughout. “The posters seem able to speak to different generations,” the collective says of the book, “though it indicates, as if we were in any doubt, that the struggle for women’s freedom and equality is far from won.”