Protection exhibition for Amnesty International UK

We’re can’t wait to go and see Protection, which is a new exhibition curated by our friends Riposte in partnership with Amnesty International UK. On display at Coal Drops Yard in London from 10 December.

 by Jasmin Sehra

by Jasmin Sehra

To mark the 70th anniversary of the declaration of human rights, Riposte, in partnership with Amnesty International UK, has curated a group exhibition featuring women and non-binary artists. It will run from 10-16 December at Coal Drops Yard.

There’s a line-up of 30 inspirational artists (some who have graced the pages of Oh Comely over the years), including Guerilla Girls, Esther Mahlangu, Erin Aniker, Hattie Stewart, Juno Calypso, Lotte Andersen, Lynnie Zulu, Maisie Cousins, Mona Chalabi, Nathalie du Pasquier, Phoebe Collings-James, Steph Wilson and many more. All contributing artists have been invited to create work in response to the theme of “Protection”. All profits from art sales will be donated to Amnesty International UK.

Drafted in 1948 following the atrocities of the second world war, the declaration provides a universal set of minimum standards for how people should be treated worldwide. It is rooted in a desire for dignity, equality and fairness for all. It has been translated into over 300 languages and it laid the foundation for the human rights protections that we have in the UK today.

 by Steph Wilson

by Steph Wilson

As part of the Amnesty Collective, Riposte wanted to bring together a global collection of artists to reflect on important human rights issues that affect us all. On the global spread of the artists involved in the show, editor of Riposte and curator of the exhibition Danielle Pender said, “We made sure that the artists involved were a global mix to reflect the myriad of ways that we’re affected by the issues around human rights. We invited established artists and designers such as Guerilla Girls, Nathalie du Pasquier and Esther Mahlangu alongside younger artists to explore the generational reaction to the issues covered in the declaration.”

The exhibition opens on Monday 10 December, RSVP here.

 by Hattie Stewart

by Hattie Stewart

Long Live Kitsch, Long Live Ana Ljubinkovic

Tahmina Begum travels to Belgrade to meet Ana Ljubinkovic

Ana Ljubinkovic is something special. That’s how she was described by Nenad Radujević, founder of Belgrade Fashion Week earlier this October as we headed to Ljubinkovic’s show. It’s also what I thought when her first model walked out.

Ljubinkovic has made a name for herself outside of the Serbian walls she grew up in, in all honesty, she was the only fashion designer I had heard of before heading to Belgrade. Her shows in London tend to be packed as everyone wants to see a Ljubinkovic creation. They are never ‘clean cut’ or ‘streamlined’ and, at first, they don’t seem practical for everyday, even though you could most definitely wear all her pieces outside of the catwalk. Seeing the effects of the 1999 Chinese embassy bombing in Belgrade and experiencing the solely heteronormative culture, walking around beautiful, binary and broken Belgrade, I was curious to understand how Ana Ibrinchovich came up with such queer designs: sleeves mimicking puffy wings, gay dicky bows and fine art portraiture slammed in the middle of medieval lace-trimmed gowns.


“Art is important for me,” she says while describing the birth of her collection, “that’s the part of the collection that holds a part of me”. This comes as no surprise, Ljubinkovic studied painting at the University of Belgrade and fell into fashion design accidentally while dreaming up fashion sketches, never really thinking they’d ever come to life.


What is a surprise is how keen the fashion designer is to keep kitsch culture alive. Fifteen years ago this wouldn’t be a problem as the pre-Instagram world had designers like Meadham Kirchhoff who cared about the whimsical. But Ljubinkovic who still lives and designs from Belgrade (and when asked why when she could live anywhere with her international recognition, she reflexes with “why not?”) cares about bringing the art via clothing to Serbia, then to the rest of the world.

“I really love kitschy details. To play with kitsch as an element, you have to have the aesthetic knowledge to do it the right way. From the pearl drops to the diamantes. Great designers have to feel the rhythm, proportion, balance, form, to know the colour theory, to know the fabrics, the technology”. And Ljubinkovic is right in that for those who don’t understand kitsch style and culture, for those who just see it as ‘bad taste’ fail to see the irony in not taking yourself too seriously in fashion – an epidemic that seems to have spread even more so as fashion has become about the numbers thanks to social media.

Ljubinkovic favourite kitsch designers are Manish Arora, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Pam Hogg, Mary Katrantzou, Vivetta and “of course, Gucci” – they are “the real superstars” as, in her book, it’s all about the attitude. “You have to be brave and humble at the same time”. The kitsch style would suck if in the process of having fun – but also making fun of yourself – you had an entitled personality to go with it. It’s only then that the oversized earrings and obnoxiously feminine pieces can make you look dated.

There’s a sense of heritage that comes to play with Ljubinkovic’s pieces. She loves to learn about art, architecture, technology and read the biographies of Nikola Tesla or Marina Abramović  – hence the history lesson across her puffy dresses – she makes it clear that she doesn’t have time for anyone else’s fashion. She’s interested in people’s stories and in response, what they put on their back and in their minds. Her sense of tunnel vision when it comes to only her fashion enables her fashion shows to have a strong narrative but also for there to be a consistent house style. You know an Ana Ljubinkovic dress when you see one.


So when I ask her what does the future look like for her and kitsch culture, she responds matter of factly with the way trends work. “Now is the time to be brave, to experiment and to be eclectic. But even in a house like Gucci, trends get boring. There will be the nude basic craze [as in the normcore trend] all over again”. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with kitsch style, maybe it’s Ljubinkovic’s lime green peplums, her doggy illustrations or the sweetheart dresses, or maybe it’s because it’s so out of place that people always search for it. In a way, being kitsch seems to be trendless.

Or what it really could be is how aspirational is the confidence it generally takes to wear an Ana Ljubinkovic trouser suit for example. To that, the fashion designer says, “real avant-garde is to really be yourself and be unapologetic about it”.

The designer is currently working on her next collection


Issue 46 playlist: midwinter

  illustration:    honey debney-succoia

illustration: honey debney-succoia

The history of pop music is filled with cruel twists and turns. Stars that burn brightly for one dazzling moment that proves to be sadly short lived. Our midwinter playlist celebrates those artists who enjoyed only a brief blaze of glory, as well as those with long-lasting careers that continue to be defined in our collective memory by just one song.

Turn it up loud to enjoy their musical gifts, which encompass everything from poignant ballads to dancefloor fillers. And, in this festive period, join us in raising a glass to these musicians who gave it – and us – their best shot.

Take a listen here.

Come join our craft workshop weekender

Get yourself in the festive spirit, and perhaps also ahead on the pressie front, with our craft workshop weekender held in London on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 December. 

We’re delighted to have teamed up with Birdsong and Beyond Retro to offer a weekend filled with sessions run by some of London’s most brilliant designers, illustrators and makers. 

Pop along to Beyond Retro’s Dalston Store, and you can join social enterprise Juta to make your own reclaimed leather or vegan shoes, have fun block stamping your own sustainable top with Gabi & Maya and learn more about natural dyeing with SALT Textiles. Get your fingers celebration ready by crafting party rings with accessory and prop maker Rosy Nicholas, while crochet queen Katie Jones will be sharing her pom pom tree decorations (pick up a copy of our forthcoming midwinter issue – out 13 December – for more Christmas treats from Katie).

Grab your friends or come along to make some new ones. Prices start at £10 and you can buy your tickets here. Look forward to seeing you there!

Muslim Sisterhood

Tahmina Begum introduces Muslim Sisterhood, a photography project capturing Muslim girls and women in the UK

  Zeinab, Sara & Lamisa, founders of Muslim Sisterhood

Zeinab, Sara & Lamisa, founders of Muslim Sisterhood

As I scroll through Muslim Sisterhood’s Instagram account, the first question that comes to mind is “what have we all be doing all this time?”. By “we all”, I mean mainstream media outlets and magazines that can choose to have a variety of women and non-binary faces across their pages. Yet it’s been the work of Zeinab Saleh, Sara Gulamali and Lamisa Khan that’s allowed us to see a range of Muslim women the minute we log into Instagram.

The DIY photography series, which chronicles the breadth of Muslim girls and women in the UK, began when Lamisa Khan was working at Amaliah, a platform for millennial Muslim women, and wished to see “normal Muslim girls who aren’t bloggers, fashionistas or British Bake-Off winners” represented as well. Inspired by the way Saleh incorporated her faith with her art and Gulamali’s campaign with Variant Space where the women were “unapologetically Muslim” (and decked out in Adidas of course), Khan approached Saleh and Gulamali and only a few months later and a few Muslim Sisterhood photography exhibitions down, they are already alumnus of V&A’s Friday Lates.

 Muslim Sisterhood at V&A Friday Late

Muslim Sisterhood at V&A Friday Late

Starting off as an Instagram account, Muslim Sisterhood’s following went from zero to over a thousand followers in just two weeks. Khan recollects that “we really didn’t expect it to be such a big deal but because Instagram is such an accessible and widely used platform, it’s a free place to exhibit and share work, it means that we can reach Muslim women on an international scale.”

For those who are bored by the conversation of diversity, you are either most likely already seen as the norm or you’re exhausted from constantly asking for it. Co-creator of Muslim Sisterhood Sara Gulamali explained the importance of platforms like Muslim Sisterhood is so not only are Muslim girls celebrated for once (and their representation is also shaped by Muslim women who come from a place of understanding) but that images like these are relatable.

Billions of Muslim continue to be generalised in the West and the consequence of this is the toxic stereotypes. From being terrorists to being uneducated, poor, a refugee or simply old-fashioned, Muslim women are typecast as having no agency. They are shown in only a handful of ways, resulting in those growing up Muslim questioning if they are 'Muslim enough’. “Therefore by showing the multiplicity of Muslim women,” Gulamali adds, “this helps rid any misconception of what a ‘normal’ Muslim girl looks like because that image simply does not exist.”

But Muslim Sisterhood is not just portraits of pretty Muslim women, it’s also tackling issues within the Muslim communities. One of them being anti-blackness, which prevails through many Muslim communities, both international and national. With only 10% of Muslims in the UK coming from a black background, co-founder Zeinab Saleh explained tackling these problems was crucial as the series was “made for us by us and why it’s important for us to raise these important issues that impact our Ummah (community)”.

 Model: Amaal Ali / Photography: Zeinab Saleh / Stylist: Lucy Savage / Make-up: Maha and Hala / image belongs to Muslim Sisterhood

Model: Amaal Ali / Photography: Zeinab Saleh / Stylist: Lucy Savage / Make-up: Maha and Hala / image belongs to Muslim Sisterhood

“We celebrate women from all different backgrounds and also recognise colourism as a problem within our community. We don’t want to reproduce the same toxic Western beauty ideals so we constantly check ourselves and make sure we bring awareness to the conversation” explains Saleh. An example of this was when the founders went on the Islamic channel, a TV network that is broadcasted internationally, and brought up the topic of anti-blackness to an older generation of Muslims who often hold these views. In other words, to speak outside the echo chamber.

When asking the three curators what they have learned about Muslim women and people in general, Lamisa Khan simply said: “I think our community can often be quite divided because of racial and cultural sectarian differences. It’s just been so refreshing to meet women who understand where you're coming from.” The feeling is clearly mutual, as Muslim Sisterhood’s engaging supporters have meant the trio have been able to not only been able to capture the throng of different Muslim women but also to show at We Are Here UK at the London School of Economics to mark 100 years of partial suffrage and celebrate what it means to be a British BAME woman in 2018.

In the latest V&A’s Friday Late, Muslim Sisterhood collaborated with The Savage Sister Vintage in order to exhibit exclusive photographs from the project, and did I mention, their photography has been used to illustrate Mariam Khan’s awaited book It's Not About the Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality and Race, set to be released in 2019? Muslim Sisterhood are putting in the work for what we all benefit from and want to see: more diversity within diversity around Muslim women, please.

 Model: Yasmin Moeladi / Photography: Zeinab Saleh / Stylist: Lucy Savage / Make-up: Maha and Hala / all images belong to Muslim Sisterhood

Model: Yasmin Moeladi / Photography: Zeinab Saleh / Stylist: Lucy Savage / Make-up: Maha and Hala / all images belong to Muslim Sisterhood

Insomnia by Marina Benjamin

insomnia_1.HEIC .jpg

Our autumn issue is inspired by dreams and sleep. Marina Benjamin’s fascinating new book explores the opposite state: Insomnia. Our book club editor Terri-Jane Dow takes a closer look.

Marina Benjamin’s slim meditation on sleeplessness makes for interesting bedtime reading. Maybe I’m leaning into the wakefulness, but I think it’s more likely that the directions Benjamin spins off into are too interesting for me to sleep on. Instead of reading myself to sleep, the musings in Insomnia keep my mind ticking over long after I have turned off the lights.

At just over 150 pages, Benjamin’s latest memoir doesn’t take long to read, but I go back and forth through it, making mental notes of sleep experiments, of theories on sleeping, of ideas of why we chase sleep so hard, and why it is sometimes so elusive. Living with an insomniac gives me an interesting perspective; I take on the sleeping role of Benjamin’s husband, only ever referred to – somewhat enviously – as Zzz, while my partner finds the snippets I read to him disarmingly accurate.

The list of sources at the end of the book is vast, and promises to keep me awake for many nights to come. Art, philosophy and science jostle together, the fragments flowing in and out of each other. Things that seem unrelated on the surface become entwined with one another. In the art world, insomnia is romanticised. Sleepless nights are full of stars and lovers, and the state of sleeplessness is evocative of something ancient and grand. Poets find a place here, as do many painters. In his early work, Edward Burne-Jones depicted ladies draping themselves all over the place, suddenly overcome by a need to sleep, and Benjamin writes about his pre-Raphaelite paintings beautifully, looping back to them at the end of the book. (Serendipitously, Burne-Jones’ paintings are the subject of a new exhibition – his first since 1933 – at Tate Britain.)

The intensity of each snippet of the book is not to say that it isn’t also very funny. Benjamin’s CBT group and attempts at sleep-aids are portrayed as torturous; exercises devised by people who have never had trouble sleeping. (“That, or they are sadists,” says Benjamin). She misses Zzz recounting his dreams to her because she has earplugs in. She refuses meditation, “terrified of the blankness”. Her book muses on her marriage, the early days of bed-sharing with Zzz, and the ways that they comfort and accommodate each other both in waking and sleep. There are many, many comparisons between sleep and love: falling, potions, and the hours of research into the science of both.

Early in the book, Benjamin writes that insomnia is as much to do with longing as it is to do with sleeplessness. “To be without sleep is to want and be found wanting.” Insomnia does not reach a conclusion, there’s no cure. Benjamin is no more able to sleep at the end of the book than she was at the beginning. Instead, she asks what it is that her wakefulness wants of her, what it is that writers and artists and philosophers have been seeking to express, and how we can find rest in restlessness.

Insomnia by Marina Benjamin is published by Scribe Books. More tales of dreams and sleep in the autumn issue of Oh Comely.

Anni Albers

 Anni Albers in her weaving studio at Black Mountain College, 1937.  Photo: Helen M. Post, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina

Anni Albers in her weaving studio at Black Mountain College, 1937.
Photo: Helen M. Post, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina

Innovative textile artist Anni Albers is currently being celebrated at London’s Tate Modern. As a female student at the radical Bauhaus art school in Germany, Albers was discouraged from taking up certain classes. She enrolled in the weaving workshop and made textiles her key form of expression. The exhibition explores the artist’s creative process and her engagement with art, architecture and design and displays the range of her work, from small-scale ‘pictorial weavings’ to large wall-hangings and the textiles she designed for mass production. We spoke to curator Ann Coxon to discover more about this pioneering artist – and why her work remains so relevant to today.

This is Anni Albers’ first major UK exhibition. Why do you think it’s taken so long?

It’s because of the media. Because Anni Albers was first and foremost working with weaving. Because the art that she made was made with thread. She stopped weaving when she was older, because it was quite physically demanding, and started printmaking. Quite late in her life, she made some comments about how when you’re working on paper it’s considered art but when you thread it’s considered craft.

That legacy of dividing into art and craft has continued, even though the ethos of the Bauhaus – where Anni Albers studied – was to bring design, craft and art together. Even though that happened 100 years ago, I think we’re still just catching up! It’s really important that Tate Modern is showing that textile can be used as a fine art medium and putting it centre stage.

 Black White Yellow 1926 / 1965, original 1926 (lost), re-woven by Gunta Stölzl in 1965, cotton and silk, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Everfast Fabrics Inc. and Edward C. Moore Jr. Gift, 1969 / Art resource / Scala, Florence © 2018 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

Black White Yellow 1926 / 1965, original 1926 (lost), re-woven by Gunta Stölzl in 1965, cotton and silk, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Everfast Fabrics Inc. and Edward C. Moore Jr. Gift, 1969 / Art resource / Scala, Florence © 2018 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

Could you tell us a bit about the weaving workshop in the Bauhaus?

At the Bauhaus, students took a preliminary course, then chose a workshop. We don’t know exactly how it came about but we do know that the weaving workshop became known as the women’s workshop. That women both gravitated towards it and were encouraged to take it up and discouraged from certain other disciplines. For various reasons, weaving wasn’t her first choice, but she took it up and really fell in love with it when she found her creative outlet there. And so this incredible thing happened at the weaving workshop, when these women were exploring weaving as a form of modernist art making.

The Bauhaus disbanded in the mid-1930s with the rise of National Socialism and Anni, and her husband Josef, were lucky enough to be offered to be offered teaching posts at Black Mountain College in the United States. But some of her peers were not so lucky. Otti Berger, a contemporary of Albers at the Bauhaus, unfortunately died in Auschwitz. Anni was of Jewish heritage as well. In the 1960s, she got back in touch with Gunta Stölzl, who was head of the weaving workshop, or Gunta Stölzl reached out to her, and together they recreated some of the beautiful wall-hangings from the Bauhaus era that had been lost during the war.

Going around the show, you really get a sense of how naturally experimental Anni Albers was.

I think the interesting thing about weaving is that you’ve got this quite rigid format, with the vertical warp threads that are set up on the loom, then the weft threads get woven across and through and so you’ve got this grid framework really at the heart of the endeavour. What Anni Albers’ was interested in exploring is: what can I do with that? What are the variations? What happens if you twist the warp threads? What happens if you use this technique? Or this one? She was really thinking about how to push all the possibilities.

I’d previously seen her work as photographic reproductions and it’s amazing how different they look when you see them in person.

That’s something that really comes through in textile media. We tend to privilege the visual and the optic. What comes through with textile art is that there’s this tactile and haptic register: not just what’s seen but also felt. I think Anni Albers’ work really makes you think about the tactile. She was very vocal in saying – even at the time that she was writing in the 1960s – that we were starting to lose touch with what it means to make things with our hands and she gave the example of when you go out to buy your sliced bread, it’s very different to kneading the dough to make the loaf of bread.

 Study for Unexecuted Wallhanging 1926 The Josef and Anniversary Albers Foundation © 2018 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

Study for Unexecuted Wallhanging 1926 The Josef and Anniversary Albers Foundation © 2018 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

There’s something of a recent revival in weaving. Do you think it’s that desire to get back in touch with our hands?

Everything is very visual and the touchscreen fills our day. More and more, we’re all glued to our phones. Everything is communicated very visually and perhaps it’s that longing to get back to something a bit more tactile, literally a bit more homespun. Certainly, lots of a younger generation of artists seem to be making reference to Anni Albers’ work or beginning to use textiles again as part of a multimedia practice, such as Sarah Sze – whose work has recently come into the Tate’s collection.

The exhibition also emphasises Anni Albers’ wide range of cultural influences. 

When Josef and Anni came to North Carolina in the 1930s, they travelled by road down to Mexico, and they both fell in love with Mexico and Mexican culture, history and making and they made several trips to different Latin American countries, such as Peru. Anni Albers  referred to the Peruvians as her “great teachers”. She was very interested in pre-Columbian textiles, unpicking them to see how they were constructed and fascinated by the way that weaving was really the most ancient form of communication, of technology, of civilisation. To take that, to inspire her to make weaving a modern project. She’s really taking that ancient art form and making it modern.

 Anni Albers,  Six Prayers , 1966–1967. Cotton/linen, bast/silver, Lurex. 1861 x 2972 mm. The Jewish Museum, New York, Gift of the Albert A. List Family, JM © 2018 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

Anni Albers, Six Prayers, 1966–1967. Cotton/linen, bast/silver, Lurex. 1861 x 2972 mm. The Jewish Museum, New York, Gift of the Albert A. List Family, JM © 2018 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

What would you say is Anni Albers’ masterpiece? 

The very beautiful work, Six Prayers. It was commissioned by the Jewish Museum in New York as a memorial to the holocaust. It’s beautifully constructed. There’s a kind of light that shines out of it – it really is a masterpiece.

Anni Albers is at Tate Modern until 27 January 2019. Read about a stay at the Bauhaus here.

Taxidermist Elle Kaye

In our autumn issue, we spoke to five women working with death in some way. Death needn’t be mysterious, these five women told us about their day-to-day reality and why it’s so important to talk about dying and grief. This is an extract from the feature, Elle Kaye tells us about her life as a taxidermist.

 Portrait by  James Stittle

Portrait by James Stittle

Elle Kaye, taxidermist

I didn’t grow up surrounded by taxidermy. I didn’t even know it could be a career. I grew up wanting to be a vet. I loved animals, but not in your typical, ‘oh that’s so cute and fluffy’ way. In a way where I felt compelled to be a part of their life, aiding them or nurturing them in some way. After some heartache in the sciences, I ended up studying fine art and sculpture. In a quest to include animals in my practice, someone suggested I try taxidermy. I was already looking at anatomical illustrations.  The harmony of science, anatomy and preservation and artistry, sculptural accuracy and model making within taxidermy, places it in both an artistic, and scientific context. Being able to use the skins in this way, presented a platform for me to learn about animals, and to teach others about them, too.

Knowing that the work I create will outlive me is a rewarding concept. It gives me a huge sense of pride and will be my legacy. I administer a dual preservative, essentially preserving the skins with two complementary techniques, so when I go to bed at night, I know the animals will be okay. This isn’t particularly textbook, and certainly not a necessity, but is more of an assurance to me.

I realise that I am operating in a sensitive sphere, with the addition that it is not a ‘commonplace’ job, so I do appreciate people may make incorrect assumptions about what I do. I experience a lot of ‘hate’. But, to devote your professional life to working with animals, recreating them for education and appreciation – you must love animals to do that. I could never kill an animal myself. 

I source all the animals I use, that way I can ensure they have been obtained legally and lawfully, are in a good condition, and aren’t carrying any transferable diseases. I receive my specimens from zoos, aviaries, sanctuaries, ornamental breeders, falconries, and farms. It’s important to me that the animals die of natural causes. It’s also essential that paperwork is provided with the specimen, so I can see the cause of death and log the specimen correctly.

A typical day for me, sees me get in to the workshop early in the morning. I’m on a farm, and the landscape is beautiful, especially in the autumn with crisp mornings and coloured trees. I store all the specimens carefully in big freezers, to prevent them from decomposing, so I will take an animal out to thaw overnight and spend the next morning skinning and cleaning it. This might involve de-fatting, on a machine, or using a beam to thin and remove the membrane on the inside of the skin. This then gets soaked, in a chronological set of baths. Either salting and pickling for mammals, or alcohol and chemical baths for birds. This is followed up with bubble baths and blow dries! Specimen dependent, I can re-freeze the skin, and spend the afternoon mounting a cleaned, thawed skin. When the animals are dry, they need airbrushing and fumigating, so this element is interweaved amongst the others. Typically, I have lots of different projects on the go. Sometimes I work off site, retrieving animals from locations across the country. 

If I could work on any specimen in the world it would be a whale – they’re my favourite animals. This would be an extremely unusual case, due to their size and lack of captivity. But, it has been done before, in Sweden. 

Nothing ‘grosses’ me out. I expect animals to have flaws and defects, just like humans. Sometimes, there are eggs still in birds, or trauma inside an animal. Prolapses, or blood clots, or shattered bone due to window death or impact.

Meet the four other women in our autumn issue.

The many colours of Guatemala

Lydia Swinscoe takes a look at the colourful history of Guatemala’s traditional clothing

 Photos by  Lydia Swinscoe

Photos by Lydia Swinscoe

The most colourful countries are always my favourite. I’m obsessed with India: saris and bangles in every shade, the bright turbans of the Punjab and bold marigolds, piled high in baskets on street corners. Bolivia captured my heart with pink flamingos, the enchanting street demonstrations of La Paz and decorated llamas. While Myanmar dazzled with shimmering golden pagodas, maroon robed monks and markets filled with exotic bright fruits.

My first big trip alone was to Guatemala – another of these addictively colourful countries – almost 13 years ago. Years later, I found myself back in the crumbling, colonial city of Antigua, just a few hours’ drive from Guatemala City waking up in one of the beautifully decorated rooms of Hotel Sor Juana. Surrounded by traditional Mayan fabric bedspreads made me realise how much I wanted to learn about Guatemala’s textiles, weaving and the clothing that makes this country oh-so-colourful.


The crumbling walls of Antigua hide hundreds of secret courtyards and many places to pick up these traditional textiles. Nim Po’t Centro de Textiles Tradicionales has walls covered in huipils dating back to the 1930s and arranged by region. Huipils are worn by women all over Guatemala and are perhaps the most common item of clothing. A loose fitting tunic made from woven fabric, traditionally on a back-strap loom, they seem to be more like detailed pieces of art, rather than clothing.

Making these wearable pieces of art is an important cultural practice for Guatemalan women, young girls learn from mothers and grandmothers, not only the practice of weaving, but also designs that identify specific indigenous groups. At a time when many families live below the poverty line, the income from weaving enables many families to simply survive. Each region of Guatemala has its own designs, symbolism, colours and details, women spend months weaving them often including hidden messages and meanings. Mayan women can read information like cultural identity and religious background just by looking at another’s huipil, it’s about as far removed from the Western worlds current fixation on fast throwaway fashion as you can get.


I wanted to see how the wonderful multi-coloured fibres made their way into beautiful geometric patterns, so I travelled to San Juan Atitlan to find out. A mountain village nestled on the shore of Lake Atitlan, (once described as the most beautiful lake in the world) it’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting to watch the ancient art of back-strap loom weaving at work.

Not as brightly coloured as many of the neighbouring towns dress, the textiles of San Juan are dyed naturally using carrots, achote (a red seed) and tree bark. Wandering around the cobbled streets, it’s easy to find women weaving. Through open doors I see them quietly working with the back-strap loom. The loom is fairly simple, long threads are stretched between two horizontal sticks, one which is fixed to something in the house or a tree trunk, whilst the other is attached to a strap that goes around the weavers back. The cross threads can then be woven through the long threads to create patterns and symbols. Just round the corner in San Pedro, a short tuk-tuk ride from San Juan, you can sign up for weaving classes at the women’s collective, Groupo Ecologico Teixchel.

After my second trip I realised that for the women of Guatemala, traditional dress means so much more than fashion, it’s a way of life. Faced with decades of political violence and oppression during the thirty-six year long civil war, weaving and embroidery have provided an important outlet of self-expression for Mayan women. Their resilience in character can be seen in each tread of every piece.

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Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde

 Photographer unknown, Rodchenko and Stepanova descending from the airplane. (for the film  The General Line  by Sergei Eisenstein), 1926. Courtesy Rodchenko and Stepanova Archives, Moscow

Photographer unknown, Rodchenko and Stepanova descending from the airplane. (for the film The General Line by Sergei Eisenstein), 1926. Courtesy Rodchenko and Stepanova Archives, Moscow

words: Victoria Rodrigues O’Donnell

With institutions like the Tate and National Gallery becoming more vocal about collecting and exhibiting works by women alongside projects like Katy Hessel’s The Great Women Artists Instagram account (featured in our current issue), the new exhibition at the Barbican, London, challenges our understanding of art history and women in Modernism. Showcasing the works of over 40 artist couples, ‘Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde seeks to reassess modern art and the influence of intimate collaborations on its development from the late 19th to mid-20th century. Little did I know that I would end up spending the next three hours walking through the space in enthrallment.

The modern couples in question vary from sexual orientation to location as well as artistic style and each room is dedicated to either a pair or group whose relationships inspired their creative output. It’s an understatement to call this an ambitious project, but I felt it succeeded most in shedding light on the works of women that have largely been overshadowed by their male partners and contemporaries. They even quote a reporter writing for the New York Evening Sun in 1917: "Some people think that women are the cause of Modernism, whatever that is."

 Friedrich (Fritz) G Walker,  Emilie Flöge in Chinese Imperial costume from the Qing Dynasty in the Gardens of the Villa Paulick in Seewalchen at Attersee 13 or 14 September 1913 , 1913. IMAGNO Brandstätter Images, Vienna

Friedrich (Fritz) G Walker, Emilie Flöge in Chinese Imperial costume from the Qing Dynasty in the Gardens of the Villa Paulick in Seewalchen at Attersee 13 or 14 September 1913, 1913. IMAGNO Brandstätter Images, Vienna

Firmly established in the canon and soon to be celebrated in an exhibition at the Royal Academy, Gustav Klimt is joined here by his lifelong partner Emilie Flöge. While most of us are familiar with the legacies of Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, Flöge’s contributions to fashion design and success as an entrepreneur remain virtually unrecognised. In 1904, Flöge opened the couture house Schwestern Flöge with her two sisters where they would sell the latest in women’s fashions and accessories. Photographs of Schwestern Flöge on display show its changing rooms decked out with designs from the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop) – a style that would go on to influence Art Deco and Bauhaus. Flöge’s daring designs for modern women are perhaps best encapsulated by her free-flowing kaftan-esque smocks which rejected the rigidity of a corseted silhouette.

 Sonia Delaunay,  Stroll , 1923. Collection of V. Tsarenkov

Sonia Delaunay, Stroll, 1923. Collection of V. Tsarenkov

Other women who worked with fashion and textiles as part of their oeuvre were Sonia Delaunay and Varvara Stepanova. The latter was a key figure in Constructivism, the Russian avant-garde movement better associated with her partner, Alexander Rodchenko, while the former is known for her colourful concentric paintings and patterns. Like Klimt and Flöge, these couples were advocates of art and design being integrated in all aspects of life. Although he dabbled with Neo-Impressionism, Robert Delaunay’s committed revolt against conventional painting methods and interest in colour theory would ultimately impact on his wife Sonia’s approach to designs for other mediums such as textiles, theatre and interiors.

In the wake of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Stepanova and Rodchenko were similarly dedicated to design that would be both decorative and functional. In the words of their collaborator and friend Vladimir Mayakovsky, “the streets shall be our brushes, the squares our palettes”. Not content with the limited reach of creating book covers, posters or photomontages, Stepanova moved her focus onto designing clothes for the everyday proletariat, concentrating on flexibility and dynamism – think bold colours, geometric shapes and chevron. 

Queer love, particularly between women, is at the centre of a section entitled ‘Chloe Liked Olivia’. Referring to a line from Virginia Woolf’s seminal essay A Room of One’s Own, this ‘exhibition within the exhibition’ is devoted to the female artists and writers drawn to Paris’ Left Bank in the 1920s. The display features personal letters, photographs and publications capturing the intellectual and erotic exchanges between the women who moved within these circles. For over 60 years, Natalie Clifford-Barney, nicknamed ‘the Amazon’, ran a weekly literary salon frequented by the likes of Sylvia Beach, Gertrude Stein, and Djuna Barnes as well as Colette, Jean Cocteau and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Paintings by Romaine Brooks, her long-term partner, line the walls of the circular space and epitomise her distinct use of a monochrome palette. 

 Claude Cahun,  Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror, checked jacket) , 1928. Courtesy of Jersey Heritage Collections

Claude Cahun, Self-portrait (reflected image in mirror, checked jacket), 1928. Courtesy of Jersey Heritage Collections

The significance of Woolf’s Orlando and its dedication to her lover Vita Sackville-West are also explored in the display. Inspired by this affair, Woolf wrote in her diary that the novel is “a biography beginning in the year 1500 and continuing to the present day, called Orlando. Vita; only with a change about from one sex to the other.” Moving fluidly throughout time and gender, Orlando continues to be just as transgressive as it was when first published 90 years ago.

Elements of the display reappear elsewhere in the exhibition, like the room dedicated to Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. Spanning across 40 years, Cahun and Moore’s relationship was already established when Cahun’s mother married Moore’s father in 1917. The two would go on to challenge gender stereotypes via experimental photography and collage throughout the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. The importance of mirrors, queer desire and subverting traditional notions around female vanity feature heavily in the couple’s work and are echoed in Cahun’s surrealist autobiography: “I am one, you are the other. Or the opposite. Our desires meet one another.”

From the tempestuous and obsessive to the intimate and tender, I was still contemplating all the ways in which art and love weave into one another during my tube ride home. ‘Modern Couples’ is a superb celebration of what can arise when these two coalesce; forging new paths into the unknown and shaping modern art as we know it.

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde is at the Barbican until 27 January 2019.

Feminists don't wear pink

We are devouring Scarlett Curtis’s new book: Feminists Don’t Wear Pink & Other Lies. It’s a collection of essays by 52 women on what feminism means to them. In her words, “I made this book for my 15-year-old self.” So we asked the activist and writer to tell us more about it and recommend her top five feminist books.


In the 1970s, the phrase ‘CLICK moment’ became widely used to describe the moment when a woman or girl stumbled across their feminist awakening. I like using this phrase in the context of modern feminism as I think, for so many young women today, their ‘click’ moments happen on the internet where a wealth of feminist dialogue and interpretation is simply a ‘click’ away. Despite the growing online bubble of feminist talk, my own feminist awakening came about through reading books. I love the internet but I find the mass amount of feminist thought out there a little bit overwhelming at times. As soon as I’ve read something I agree with I will click on a completely opposing opinion and find myself agreeing with that too. Then I fall into an endless wormhole of fighting and agreeing and liking and hash-tagging.

There’s something beautiful about the sanctity of feminist writing that is held within the pages of a book. It pulls its reader toward a quiet moment on a Sunday, where one can sit and lounge for hours with a highlighter and a brand new book and work their way through the pages without being interrupted by the madness of online activity.

My feminist reading began at around 16 and since then I have taken a four-year degree in women’s social movements and collected a hefty bookshelf of books that I love, hate, and love to hate.

For the past year and a half I’ve been attempting to create something that might earn it’s own place on this shelf. I could never have written a feminist book on my own, so this book is a collection of essays by 52 women on what feminism means to them. It’s called Feminists Don’t Wear Pink & other lies and its contributors range from activists (Dr. Alaa Murabit, Trisha Shetty, Emi Mahmoud) to Hollywood actresses (Keira Knightley, Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan) to fictional characters (Bridget Jones!). I also include ten teenage girls, all of whom understand feminism and activism in a way that is innate and natural and wonderful. All the royalties are gong to an incredible charity called Girl Up and while the book is by no means perfect I’m hoping it’s worthy of its place next to some of my other favourite feminist texts.

If you buy the book, I hope you like it and I hope it might encourage you to take your feminist reading further. Below are five of my favourite feminist books (Feminists Don’t Wear Pink not included).

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
The first book on feminism I ever read (I didn’t know there were any others!) and still a complete masterpiece. It’s a fascinating insight into early 20th century women and also in some ways entirely timeless.

This Bridge Called My Back curated by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa
An incredible feminist anthology and one of the major inspirations for Feminists Don’t Wear Pink. A collection of writing by 31 women of colour and one of the leading texts in the intersectional feminist movement of the 1980s.

Headscarves and Hymens by Mona Eltahawy
This 2015 book by journalist Mona Eltahawy was my first deep introduction to Muslim feminism, which is topic that is far too often misunderstood and appropriated by white women. The book touches on both misogyny in the Arab world and also the West’s misunderstanding of Muslim feminism. It’s a tough but brilliant read.

Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” this quote by hooks continues to be my primary definition of feminism to this day and her book of essays Feminism is for Everybody is an incredible example of hook’s unparalleled skill at translating the true goals of the feminist movement. Buy this one for the men in your life and keep your eye on them to make sure they read it!

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
A less academic offering by feminist superhero Gloria Steinem, this book was one of the first things that made me want to commit my life to activism. Written in the style of a memoir it spans Steinem’s life of campaigning and if you weren’t already a fan of the 84-year-old wonder women then this book will make you one.


Feminists Don’t Wear Pink & Other Lies is out now. Follow Scarlett on Instagram for motivation and activism @scarcurtis. You can also read Scarlett’s What I Stand For feature in issue 41.

The Other Art Fair – Not 30%

Did you know that 60% of art graduates are women, yet in gallery representation, museum collections and exhibitions, the presence of women artists amounts to a maximum of 30%, often far less. To mark its 30th edition, The Other Art Fair is launching a second site dedicated to showcasing women artists. ‘Not 30%’ is part exhibition, part protest against the male dominated art world. And we’re delighted to spot some names who have also featured on the pages of Oh Comely over the years, including illustrator Hattie Stewart and taxidermist Elle Kaye (who tells us about her art in our latest issue). We caught up with the exhibition’s curator, Kate Bryan, to find out more about the line-up of women artists and why it’s so important to support them.

 Untitled by Elle Kaye

Untitled by Elle Kaye

Where did the idea for Not 30% come from? I love The Other Art Fair and have always been a big fan of its democratic, fun attitude to art. When they asked me to curate a section to celebrate their 30th edition and present 30 artists, the numbers spoke for themselves. At best women get only 30% representation in the art world. I am a big champion of women artists and so this was a natural way for me to go.

How did you pick the artists involved? Will their work have a thread of protest running through it?
Everyone in Not 30% applied to be in the fair, I then selected them and shaped the format and the idea. There are quite a few of the artists who make work which is explicitly feminist but it’s not a prerequisite. We just wanted to make a statement in a safe space – The Other Art Fair has always been equal and diverse with its artists so it’s a nice position to make this kind of statement together.

 Yellow Taxi by Alice de Miramon

Yellow Taxi by Alice de Miramon

What is the highlight of Not 30% for you? The highlight will be the moment when everyone is set up ready, and the doors are just about to open. I can’t wait for that buzz in the air, the artists ready, the art up and the sense of anticipation. It’s a great feeling for lots of people to get behind the same statement.

How do you hope it will inspire other women artists?
I hope it makes them feel like we have their back. We are starting to get somewhere in the art world, things are changing, I just want to play my part to hurry things up.

 Sailing to Dia by  Lori Cuisinier

Sailing to Dia by Lori Cuisinier

We hear that Femme Fatale will be doing a pop-up tattoo studio, tell us more… Tattoo artist Emily Malice will be tattooing. She’s created a flash sheet of new designs just for the fair. There’s no booking necessary – just turn up and get inked! 

 Emily Malice will be tattooing at the exhibition

Emily Malice will be tattooing at the exhibition

Tattoos still often get negative press, has the idea caused any controversy? I think given that the context is the art world where anything goes, it’s a bit easier, but I agree that tattoos are still taboo which is crazy, it’s 2018!

Do you think, perhaps, tattoos are the ultimate form of protest art?
I think they can be – take someone passionate, intelligent and with a statement to make. A placard is one thing, a tattoo is next level.

 Checkers by Hattie Stewart

Checkers by Hattie Stewart

Not 30% is on until 7 October 2018 at The Old College, Old Central St Martins, Southampton Row, London. View the artists here

Interview with Charly Cox

We’re so excited that one of our favourite poets wrote us a poem inspired by autumn and the changes it brings, for our latest issue. Charly Cox’s book She Must Be Mad is the best-selling poetry debut of 2018. We love that her writing focuses on destigmatising mental health, what it means to be a woman in the modern world and, of course, everything else in between. Grab a copy of issue 45 to read the poem Charly wrote especially for us. Here’s our chat with the writer and poet about our shared love of autumn and her perfect day…

2018-09-14 12.18.01 1.jpg

What inspires you about autumn? Jumpers. Jackets. Boots. Sartorially I'm at my best from October onward, which makes me feel put together. Put together visually tends to mean put together in practice of work, for me. Ridiculous, I'm sure. I love the cold and the red wine and the sudden pull to closeness of autumn, you're not quite yet wishing for summer again but you're enjoying the retelling of what happened. It feels like such a wonderful time to look back on the sun stung memories and mistakes and turn them into something new again.

Describe your perfect day… I spend a lot of time wishing for a change of scenery/pace/routine but the more I thought about this question the more I realised how perfect my current set up is for me.

Wake at 10am, feed Peanut (my adopted wild rabbit) (yes, really) and walk into the woods with Piper my black lab. Coffee and a cigarette by the fireplace. Re-listen to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show, more coffee. Shower, dress, get on the train to London and convince a friend to take an early lunch and have a glass of wine. Wonder Soho aimlessly, buy another book and a magazine I don't need. Call Adrian. Call my grandparents. Sit and people watch on Dean Street and scribble in my notebook. Think about dinner. Convince another friend to let me go to theirs and cook and invite everyone over. More wine. Catch up. Be stupid. End up in G-A-Y Late.

What does writing poetry feel like? It feels safe and understood.

What's your writing routine? It's highly sporadic which makes deadlines and feeling 'productive' difficult. I'm slowly accepting that my routine at its best and most powerful starts at 1am.

Where do you like to write poetry? I write everything on my phone to ease the sense of 'oh my god my hands are hovering above a keyboard why has my brain gone silent I'm a failure' that I get when I try and write on a laptop if it's deadline based but love nothing more than scribbling in my notebook as I wake to get out initial ideas. I like writing in bed and on the tube, in pubs on my own.

How did you start writing poetry? I've written for as long as I can remember. I started writing to profess love for teen heartthrobs and damn school crushes and then it later turned into a crutch through times of depression and anxiety. Poetry became a source of therapy for me. Once what were often terrified and enmeshed thoughts and feelings were out on a page and tangible, something for me to look at and study, I felt as though they were easier to tackle and understand. I still feel that way a lot.

What're you reading right now? So. Many. Things. I am terrible at doing one thing at once, so I've got 5 books on the go at the moment. The one I carry around the most at the moment is The Best of A.A Gill. He was a genius.

Read Charly’s ode to autumn in issue 45.

Issue 45 playlist: autumn

 Illustration:  Chrissy Curtin

Illustration: Chrissy Curtin

Come and have a sit down. Why not rest your head for a short while? We’ve compiled a suitably dreamy playlist for our autumn issue to accompany you through the darkening days of the season. Slow your pace and let the likes of Bat for Lashes, Aretha Franklin and School of Seven Bells soothe your soul. There, that’s a bit better already.

Take a listen to our autumn playlist here

Win some Yawn PJs

Wahoo, we’ve teamed up with our fave nightwear brand Yawn to offer you a chance to win some PJs.


Simply answer the following question: In what year was Yawn created? 2007, 2014 or 2016. Give your answer here.

Competition closes on 5 December 2018.

(The answer is somewhere in our latest issue)

Terms & conditions:
The competition closes Wednesday 5 December 2018. A winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries after this time and notified shortly after. Full terms and conditions are at

Win £250 to spend at Birdsong

Win £250 to spend with sustainable brand Birdsong so you can dress, protest and totally transform your (out)look


To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question.

What type of hat did the Black Panthers wear in the 60s? Give your answer here.

Competition closes on Wednesday 5 December 2018.

(HINT: you’ll find the answer is somewhere in our latest issue)

Terms & conditions:
The competition closes
5 December 2018. A winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries after this time and notified shortly after. Full terms and conditions are at

Time travel: a visit to the Bauhaus

 Photos:  Frances Ambler

In our late summer issue, we share four different stories of time travel. Frances Ambler wrote about what it was like to spend a night at the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany.

"I was standing in front of the then ultra-modern building… Its architecture represented to me the beginning of a new era.” So wrote student Hannes Beckmann on arriving at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Walter Gropius designed the building to match this ambitious art school, a vision of soaring glass, proclaiming its own name in huge letters down its side. Its photograph was circulated around the world – at first a symbol of German creativity and forward thinking; later, after its closure by the Nazis, a symbol of a lost era.

As I stood there, in grey drizzle, it wasn’t quite living up to this promise. I was staying overnight in one of the 28 studio rooms where students had worked and slept, part of my research for my book, The Study of the Bauhaus. The room had the single bed, fitted cupboards and sink familiar from student halls – here, however, the furnishings revealed the creativity of its former inhabitants: the tubular metal furniture devised by Marcel Breuer seen in a set of nesting tables; the modernist patterns promoted by the weaving workshop present in a bedspread devised by Gunta Stölzl. Echoing the pattern of my own student life, I crawled into bed with my phone, distracting myself with the hum of contemporary online life.

If I went to bed in a 21st-century fug, I woke up in the optimism of the 1920s. Bright blue sky had taken the place of the grey. The huge desk by the window suddenly looked inviting. I stepped onto the balcony, and looked over the surrounding town in a new light.

The day opened up a Bauhaus experience bigger than the room: what had been the student canteen, auditorium and gym, the spaces where workshops once whirred with activity. On a tour, we stopped in one of the studio rooms, made up as it would have been then. It had belonged to Marianne Brandt, who had found her calling in the metal workshops, inventing lamps, ashtrays and her now-famous tea set, which today sell for thousands of pounds. It was right next door to the room where I’d spent the night.

Looking at Brandt’s record player, I understood my earlier disconnect. The many snapshots taken by the students themselves show them in and out of each others' rooms, leaning across their balconies and throwing impromptu parties – rows of cakes spread across the nesting tables, grinning attendees squished onto the single bed. They experimented and learnt together; they also gave friendship.

Right wing opponents forced the Bauhaus to close in Dessau in 1932, and it moved, temporarily, to Berlin before finally closing the following year. Its students spread out around the world. We tend to hear the names of the lucky ones, such as Josef Albers or Marcel Breuer, who forged new lives in America. Others struggled in Germany, their careers never reaching such dizzy heights. Some suffered in concentration camps. The building itself was damaged in bombing, only fully opening for visitors four years ago.

But the Bauhaus was always more than its building. It was about the people and their desire and determination to build a better world – a spirit that blazed as brightly as that day’s blue sky.

The Story of the Bauhaus is published on 11 October (Ilex Publishing). You can pre-order a copy here. And enjoy three other stories of time travel in our late summer issue.

What We're Loving: London Nights exhibition

What happens when the sun goes down? Nighttime can mean danger, excitement, maybe drunkenness, too, or perhaps the possibility of escaping from prying eyes. See the capital at nighttime through the lens of 60 photographers at the Museum of London’s current London Nights exhibition. The images all have one thing in common they reflect the darkness that can transform a city – from the late 19th century to the present day. From deserted streets to dingy clubs, it’ll make you think about the city in a whole new way…

 Mods on the street Borehamwood 1969.  Photograph by Terry Spencer

Mods on the street Borehamwood 1969.
Photograph by Terry Spencer

 Song and Dance from the series London By Night, 1983. Photograph by Tish Murtha

Song and Dance from the series London By Night, 1983.
Photograph by Tish Murtha

 London A Modern Project, 1995, by Rut Blees Luxemburg

London A Modern Project, 1995, by Rut Blees Luxemburg

 From the series Southwestern, 2007-10,  Photograph by Niall McDiarmid

From the series Southwestern, 2007-10,
Photograph by Niall McDiarmid

 Bourgeoisie from Night Flowers, 2014 Photographer Damien Frost

Bourgeoisie from Night Flowers, 2014
Photographer Damien Frost

Ideal viewing now the evenings are getting darker. The exhibition is on until 11 November,

Cocktails inspired by inspirational women: The Zadie Smith

Celebrating incredible women? Cheers to that! Free The Tipple by Jennifer Croll is filled with cocktails inspired by iconic women. This Friday, we're sipping on The Zadie Smith. Here's how to make it for yourself... 

 Illustrations by Kelly Shami

Illustrations by Kelly Shami


The Zadie Smith


1 sugar cube
2 shots bourbon
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
½ shot crème de cacao
½ shot absinthe
Garnish: lemon peel

Put a sugar cube in a mixing glass with enough water to soften it and crush with a spoon. Add bourbon, bitters, crème de cacao, and ice, and stir until chilled.

Take a teacup and pour in absinthe. Turn the glass until the absinthe has coated it on all sides, and then pour out the excess. Strain the bourbon mixture into the teacup and garnish

Some writers take years to make it (and most never do), but Zadie Smith has been a sensation ever since she published her first book, White Teeth, at age 24. Her broad, sweeping novels cleverly and deftly examine race, class, cultural identity, and celebrity, and their beautifully-crafted sentences and engrossing plots have made her a giant of contemporary literature.

As a half-Jamaican, half-English woman who grew up in northwest London, Zadie has long been both a symbol for and an interpreter of multicultural Britain. White Teeth explored that very theme through the tale of three culturally diverse families whose lives intersect in England’s capital. Her subsequent novels considered topics ranging from the nature of beauty to female friendship, with liberal doses of pop culture; Swing Time, for example, included a Kylie Minogue-inspired singer.

Zadie is also a style inspiration and role model for creative, ambitious women. With her chunky glasses, patterned tops, and turbans, she’s made the pages of Vogue, while her ability to consistently deliver gorgeous prose, year after year, has made her the envy of writers everywhere. Her cocktail is inspired by tradition, but isn’t too beholden to it. A chocolatey spin on a Sazerac, it’s served in a teacup — like a proper English cuppa.

Free the Tipple_Front cover.jpg

This is an extract from Free The Tipple, published by Prestel. Check out the book for more tasty cocktails inspired by kickass women, including MIA, Frida Kahlo, Serena Williams, Beyoncé, and so many more... 

On Emmeline Pankhurst and Getting Stuck In

 Illustration:  Bijou Karman

Illustration: Bijou Karman

Sometimes we all need a bit of guidance. Writers E. Foley and B. Coates have channelled the wisdom of remarkable women from throughout history for their new book, What Would Boudicca Do? From Hedy Lamarr to Rosalind Franklin, they show you how the examples of great ladies from the past can make your present a brighter place. Plus it’s illustrated by Bijou Karman (whose work also adorns our cover this issue). Here’s what we can learn from Emmeline Pankhurst about Getting Stuck In. 

We live in deeply unsettling times. When ridicu­lous men with access to armies and red buttons seem to be in charge all over the place, it feels very tempting to put your fingers in your ears and shout ‘La la la la la’ to drown out the terrible noise our politi­cians are making left, right and centre. Tempting, yes, but wrong. 

Emmeline Pankhurst, champion for the right of women to have a vote in the first place, would have stern (but motivational) words with you.

Born in Moss Side, Manchester, Emmeline Goulden was weaned on the intoxicating milk of radicalism, raised in a family burning with political passion. The eldest of ten children, she is said to have attended her first women’s rally at the age of eight, and her forward-thinking parents sent her to a Parisian fin­ishing school in which she was instructed in the arts of book-keeping and chemistry, as well as the usual embroidery and etiquette. In 1879 she married Rich­ard Pankhurst, a barrister 24 years older than her and buddy of the great reformer John Stuart Mill. With her husband’s support, Ms P. founded the Women’s Franchise League – one of their wins was ensuring that married women were able to have a say in local (but not general) elections. This was an early step in the struggle for votes for women – before this, you were lucky if you got a chance to pick the captain of the local knitting club – but still, only those women clever enough to ensnare a husband got their minute at the ballot box.

After Richard’s death at the age of 64, Emmeline managed, through the fug of grief, to find solace again in intense social campaigning. She found­ed the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903 with her three daughters, Christabel, Sylvia and Adela. The Pankhurst gang’s goal was simple: votes for women in every election in which men could vote. Frustrated with a lack of progress on this issue across the party spectrum, Emmeline, with her gals at her side, set the political barometer to stormy. Their slogan was ‘Deeds, not words’, and boy, did they mean it.

The WSPU’s dramatic feats included arson attacks, pouring acid into mailboxes, and even (for the Fifty Shades of Grey fans among you) attacking Winston Churchill at Bristol Temple Meads rail station with a riding crop. One woman even took her meat cleaver to Velázquez’s Venus in the National Gallery; she said afterwards that she attacked the most beautiful woman in history as revenge for the government attacking the woman with the most beautiful soul in history – our very own Emmeline. Another, Emily Wilding Davison, ran onto the course at the Epsom Derby in June 1913 and was killed by the King’s horse. It’s worth noting that these high-stakes stunts were too much for some, and Sylvia and Adela abandoned the WSPU in protest, causing a family rift that never really healed.

When war broke out in 1914, the pragmatic Emme­line called a truce. She recognised that there was a greater cause to fight for – and that there was no point chasing the vote if ultimately there might not be a country in which to cast it. She switched her focus to campaigning for women to join the war effort, and as the boys went to the front to fight for Blighty, women began to take on more traditionally male occupations. Suddenly there were female tram drivers, farmhands and firefighters, and the ladies also took on roles in the civil service, police force and factories. It’s no surprise that women began to question why they were being paid less than their male counterparts for identi­cal roles (and it’s frankly bonkers, not to mention real­ly boring, that we are having to ask the same question over a hundred years later). Women’s rights were back in the spotlight and, in 1918, the Representation of the People Act extended the vote to women over thirty with some stipulations: they had to own property; or be married to a property owner; or be a graduate voting in a university constituency. So not much cop for our younger working-class sisters.

Emmeline died in 1928, agonisingly just two weeks before women finally won the vote on the same terms as their menfolk. Some hair-splitting historians have questioned whether it was Ms Pankhurst’s actions or merely the seismic changes of the war that meant that women were finally judged capable of having the vote without frittering it away on fancies. Was it simply that, with so many men dead, it was now impossible for the government to overlook women? In our eyes, Emmeline still deserves our respect, and more importantly we owe it to her to turn up and take part in our democracy – her activism paved the way for a future in which women’s equality has never been off the agenda. Yes, politics today is unpredictable and sometimes depressing, but women have a special duty to exercise a right that was so recently fought for and ferociously hard-won. In fact, we’d go so far as suggesting that the next time you have to vote – in a general election, for a staff rep or for the oddest-shaped vegetable at the village show – you make sure you put your best feminist fashion foot forward and array yourself in the WSPU colours of purple, white and green.