The 40th anniversary of the start of the 1984- 85 Miners’ Strike will be commemorated by an artists’ exhibition in Seaham in honour of the women who supported the strike.
The exhibition, entitled Shifted, is being organised by members of East Durham Artists’ Network (EDAN) in collaboration with National Women Against Pit Closures (NWAPC). It will open on 5 March 2024 at the EDAN Gallery, following the NWAPC celebration of women’s strike activism planned for Saturday 2 March in Durham City.
Shifted: Seaham art show
Shifted will focus more generally on the contribution of women to mining life, politics and culture. The strike was a concentrated moment of female activism in which the women took independent action in support of the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM) in an effort to protect jobs and a way of life that were threatened by the policies of the Thatcher Government. The women demonstrated a political commitment to the strike that was grounded in practical experience and action.
Their commitment seemed remarkable in 1984 because women had hitherto been largely invisible in public perceptions of the world of coal mining. Mining was male work and women simply did not appear in the narratives and depictions of the mining industry. Yet the skills deployed by the women during the strike were the outcome of a long, but largely unrecognised, active female history.
Crucial female activism
Female activism was integral to mining life operating through private, informal networks as well as within formal institutions to sustain and reproduce cohesive mining families and communities. Female labour and activism, energised by the experience of the strike, continued to be important in the aftermath of pit closures, and it remains crucial within eff orts to commemorate the legacy of mining.
The 40th anniversary event in Durham, represents something of that determination to keep alive the political heritage of working-class women as represented by female activism in the miners’ strike.
Most of the publicly accessible art that addresses mining history focuses on mining and the world of men, and artists who have depicted mining life and society have themselves 40 YEARS ON: Remembering the Miners’ Strike Jac Seery ‘Untitled’ been mostly men. The EDAN exhibition includes work from women artists who grew up in mining families and have lived through the historic shifts that have taken place in what were once thriving, self-contained mining communities.
East Durham Artists’ Network
All EDAN artists, men and women, whether or not they are of mining heritage, have been asked to look beyond the stereotypes of men’s and women’s roles in mining life, and to centre the experiences and skills of the women whose labour was crucial to the welfare of the mining workforce.
The EDAN exhibition will seek to emphasise the importance of women’s roles in this longer history of mining society, to broaden the view by shifting the focus to the world of women. In doing so, the artists involved will consider how the strike shifted the power balance between men and women, shifted perceptions of women’s capacities and shifted expectations of what women might achieve in a rapidly changing environment.
Article first published in Media North: Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (North). For more from Media North, and to subscribe to their newsletter, visit their website.