HERstory: The Untold and Silenced Women in History

The 8th March was International Women’s Day, in celebration Marina Cusi Sanchez put on a performance to tell the silenced stories of women throughout history. Jess Clayton-Berry went to find out more.

Bartolina Sisa ‘Queen of the Inca’ was a revolutionary Aymara heroine who led South America’s native villages against Spanish oppressors. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a Mexican nun born out of wedlock and fought against the church’s censorship against her feminist works. Rosalind Franklin discovered DNA but her efforts were stolen by men who didn’t credit her. Mary Anning was a palaeontologist and remained poor throughout her life whilst men profited from showing the world her discoveries. These are just some of the untold and silenced stories revealed throughout HERstory, an art performance installation by Marina Cusi Sanchez that took place on the 6th March 2020 at Lakeside Theatre, the Art Exchange and the Albert Sloman Library.

Hung up on the wall nearby was ‘My Feminine Lineage of Environmental Struggle’ by Carolina Caycedo which illustrates 100 female activists. Image credit: Emma Ball.

Inspired by the lack of female representation and female role-models in history books and the educational system, Marina wanted to put on the performance in celebration of International Women’s Day by recognising the stories of women who had fought and worked for a better world but had been silenced and their stories kept in the shadows by our patriarchal and misogynistic society. She noted how women who had been included in history books are often romanticised for ‘HIStory’, such as Cleopatra who is often remembered for her beautify and romantic and romantic life but not for being the intelligent ruler of a thriving empire.

HERstory focuses on women from working class backgrounds, of oppressed ethnicity, were overshadowed by male figures who had snatched their spotlight, and who had achieved success and made contributions to the world but were denied or silenced. “I realised most of the stories of influential and silenced women that I already knew about were white upper-class women who, due to their privilege, had access to an excellent education and professional facilities. Although I think these women still deserve the praise and recognition that their male peers have, I focused my piece on women from more deprived backgrounds whose stories were less known,” she explained.

Volunteers (pictured: Chloe Walker) would sit at the exhibition for 45 minutes each in the three different locations throughout the day. Image credit: Emma ball.

“When I started this project, I was hoping to find out more about female figures that I already knew about but are considered unknown,” Marina used Ade Lovelace as an example who was a 19th Century mathematician – widely considered to be the first ever computer programmer, having theoretically invented the first ever computer years before the right technology was available to put her ideas into practice. Marina was supported by a number of female-identifying and non-binary students and staff who took it in turns to volunteer and perform in each area. Each performer would sit next to a screen with a laptop and type out each of these untold stories which would then be broadcast onto the screen. “The whole idea of the project was for women to re-write HERstory, to reclaim their space in history by re-telling these stories and giving a voice to those whose voice was silenced,” Marina said.

“It’s important for us to hear these stories and know about the existence of these women because we learn by example,” Marina explained that the patriarchal narrative of only men being in science, sports and academicism whilst women are housekeepers was taught to people from a young age in order to be relevant. This is why women and their achievements were erased from history in order to deny women these extraordinary role models for generations and therefore the impact needed for them to work to change their surroundings. They did not have the proof that they could be whoever they wanted to be. “By suppressing women from history, they were suppressing young girls’ hopes,” Marina stated.

The exhibition simultaneously took place in the Library, Lakeside Cafe and the Art Exchange. Pictured: Amy Stephenson-Yankuba (left). Image credit: Emma Ball.

Marina hopes the project has challenged widespread ideas about women ‘waiting in a corner all these years, silenced and inactive’ and that people will see that women actually had a much more active role in history than what’s been recorded. “I’ve witnessed how many people still think women have had a passive role in human history. That in itself it very problematic, and makes me question the biased formal educational we are receiving,” she claimed.

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