This was a 3 month community led project with the Montague Centre in West Belfast. The group of women made colleges about themselves and took photos of each other, making visual histories that might represent their lives and experiences.
While World Banks are failing, the community that they were supposed to support are left to struggle on. With cuts imminent and insecurity about financing heating and food it must be a huge addition stress when you find yourself more vulnerable.
Community Centres are what keeps us together and keeps our worries and fears in perspective, or at least gives us a good laugh, cry, haircut and a cup of tea with our friends and our peers.
When I was asked to be the visual artist on the project, present in my mind was the banking crisis. Who owns this money? What are these images on them and how does that relate to me. Why is this ‘my’ money. Looking into this and ways that some communities have ‘opted’ of the main stream and putting emphasis on community and shopping local I looked into the Brixton and Bristol Pounds. I looked at the different types of Northern Irish Notes with the tractors, and bicycles, and
I came to the Montague Centre with the idea of using the money as an opportunity to make images that related to this group in this time.
There was huge enthusiasm for the project an everyone took up the call to make the images on money meaningful. To have these women represented in everyone’s pocket.
Working with Brenda and Bronagh has been a privilege and they have been teasing out stories that are connected to the images that we have made. These women of the Montague Centre are inspirational women, they have found images that are important to them in their everyday, collaged them into a self-portrait of there lives and stories.
I wanted to say thank you to everyone that worked on the project, all the brilliant women whose images and stories are in these pages and the amazing care that they receive at the Montague Centre.
Thanks to Linda and To Brenda, Bronagh, Deirdre and Joy thanks again and also to Julie and Sam and the other artists on the project.
There is an expression, a phrase, that I hate. It is used so often in a one size fits all way, that it is rendered useless. That expression is “Working With the Elderly”. Several months ago Charlie Bosanquet, Bronagh and myself entered a room in the Montague Centre.
A long table ran down the middle of the room and all along that table sat women all dressed in their own colourful individual way. A rainbow of women, all different sizes, with different abilities, and indeed, disabilities. Some walked in unaided, some were wheeled in and some with a little help from their friends. Some talked loudly over one another, others chatted quietly and yet a few others sat quietly in their own worlds. Their ages ranged from 60 to 90.
Over these last months I have come to know a little about this group of women. Some of course I could not find out very much about due to stroke or dementia. Each individual carrying her own story, the story of their working lives, their loves.
In all too many of these stories, their bodies testify to the work they had to do. Women with breathing problems from working in sacking factories, thick with dust and no proper ventilation, women with gnarled hands and feet, from working for hours in the wet mills, women with tiny spider web scars on hands, seventy and eighty year old hands, made by threads or wool cutting them as they worked. Some of them worked with materials as diverse as the finest cotton and linen, to the coarse hessian and rope of their trades.
It was a privilege to sit among these lovely women and great fun, and at times startlingly moving. For instance, I asked one woman to tell me what time it was. She misunderstood and turning to me she said ‘So much time has passed, I will soon be running out of it.’ Then she laughed.
Charlie took photographs of all our Montague women and gave each woman their developed photograph the next week. Patricia was looking at her photo, she has a wonderful soft face and smile. I told her ‘You are lovely in that photo Patricia’. She looked down at it and said ‘No, that’s not me. That’s an old woman. Where am I?’
Then Anne laughed and shouted ‘Sure we are all oul dolls now!’ But to me they are not oul dolls now. They are aging, yes, as we all are. Underneath there is what they were and what they are. In this book we, Charlie, Bronagh and I, can only give you a glimpse, a brief snapshot of the Montague women and hope that by doing so we may raise in other people, an awareness that quality of life, for those of us getting older, is just as important in the later stages of life as in the beginning. Our politicians and our communities in general should take care of their needs and treasure them because, in the end, we will all ultimately join them.
What these women fear most is isolation and debt. They fear that cuts in funding would leave them without a place like Montague House to go to, or that projects like that undertaken with Charlie, Bronagh and myself would come to an end.