21 Revolutions was commissioned to mark the first two decades of Glasgow Women’s Library. It features the work of 21 visual artists and 21 writers, each inspired by items from the Library’s rich collection of artefacts, books and art. Despite its size (and price!), it’s no mere coffee-table bagatelle. On the contrary, 21 Revolutions is a book to be read re-read, savoured and enjoyed.
In her Introduction, Adele Patrick, editor and co-founder of the Library, outlines the 21 Revolutions project and its aim to:
open up to the broadest audiences the gems from our library, archive and museum collection, interpreted through the lens of forty-two of some of the most important women creatives working in Scotland today, but also to capture and reflect the essence of the innovative approach to the fields of social and women’s history, feminism and equality that the Library has engendered.
Items drawn on for inspiration by the artists and writers include an anti-suffragette clock of the 1900s; “The Woman Worker” magazine, covering issues including the dangers faced in dye-making factories; The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf; feminist badges; a packet of Dusty Springfield sweet pea seeds; and the National Museum of Roller Derby Collection.
Several artists draw on the suffrage movement for inspiration, including Claire Barclay, Elspeth Lamb and Ashley Cook, the latter inspired by a set of playing cards for the game Panko in which players collect sets of suffragists and anti-suffragists. Some artists are inspired by particular women; others have chosen particular places for their theme, reclaiming public space for women – for example, Nicky Bird with Alice Andrews’ “Raging Dyke Network” postcards; Sam Ainsley’s “This Land is Your Land” maps of Scotland; and Jacki Parry’s “Women in the City” map of Glasgow with streets re-named for women.
The quality of the writing is as good as you would expect from such “names” as Denise Mina, Jen Hadfield, A.L. Kennedy and Jackie Kay. It’s impossible to pick out favourites from the range of short stories, flash faction, graphic fiction and essays. Anne Donovan’s “Lassie wi a Yella Coatie” about women’s working conditions in Scottish factories is just one of many excellent stories. Other writing covers gang rape in the Congo, the Cat and Mouse Act, the cover image of The Female Eunuch and a reflection on feminism from the 1960s to 1980s.
Not only are the individual works thought-provoking: 21 Revolutions has been put together with considerable care so that the artwork and accompanying text engage with each other. Sometimes this is overt, for example, artist, Amanda Thomson collaborated with writer, Elizabeth Reeder, to produce an homage to botanist Mary McCallum Webster and her favourite flower, wintergreen. But even where there is no deliberate collaboration, the interweaving of text and image add further layers of story and meaning. A. L. Kennedy’s short story, “Stitches”, for example, is flanked by a reproduction of the cover of 1940s pattern book, Needlewoman and Needlecraft and Kate Gibson’s 2012 print, “Homespun”, collectively linking past and present.
There is so much to enjoy about 21 Revolutions – about the process and inspiration as well as creative output of the individual writers and artists and the wider project; about the story of the Glasgow Women’s Library as a storehouse of women’s individual and collective stories and histories. It’s at once political and personal, quirky and tender, stitching together memory, history, and creativity. Like the Library itself, the book connects us to our past and in so doing, invites all of us to consider how we might shape our future.