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Alexandra Kokoli Leverhulme Fellowship 2020-2021
Alexandra Kokoli wins Leverhulme Fellowship

Alexandra Kokoli awarded Leverhulme Fellowship

Art and Visual Activism at Greenham Common

During her Leverhulme Research Fellowship, 2020-2021, Alexandra Kokoli will continue her sustained art historical examination of the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common (1981-2000).

In the text below, Alexandra Kokoli argues for the special role of visual and material practice in feminist anti-nuclear protest and documents its enduring impact across contemporary art and social movements.

Art and Visual Activism at Greenham Common

This Leverhulme Fellowship will allow me to complete the first ever comprehensive and critically contextualised catalogue of a museum that does not yet exist but whose significance deserves greater recognition. The Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common (1981-2000) was a women-only camp established in protest against nuclear proliferation and the Cold War ideology of deterrence that fuelled the arms race. It occupied the periphery of the US military base at RAF Greenham Common in Berkshire, England, where nuclear Cruise missiles were kept and from which, it was feared, they would be deployed.  The peace camp initiated a series of performative protest actions on and off site, including teddy bears’ picnics, and mock weddings of protesters to nuclear warheads by Shirley Cameron and Evelyn Silver. The perimeter fence of the airbase was soon transformed into a permanent if informal gallery of protest, hosting a wealth of visual and material interventions which were documented by amateur and professional photographers. The Greenham women used a range of print media to communicate amongst themselves and with the world beyond the camp, including newsletters, posters, postcards, and leaflets, most of which were richly illustrated with original artwork.


From an art historical perspective, this material teems with visual iconographies drawing upon ancient myths and symbols already mobilised in women’s movements since the 1960s. In addition to the reclamation of witches and witches’ circles, spider webs were successfully exploited in craftivist performance and evoked in drawing, as a motif of solidarity, connectivity, and soft strength. Furthermore, many artworks were created at or in reference to Greenham, often by artists with direct experience of the camp, including textile and installation work by Janis Jefferies, Margaret Harrison’s multiple iterations of the reconstructed perimeter fence, Tina Keane’s films of protest and reverie, and Thalia Campbell’s textile collages and banners.


Regularly revisited in both visual activisms and contemporary art, Greenham Common is now being recognised as English and Welsh heritage with a transnational reach. This project builds on research supported by the Paul Mellon Centre to contribute to the unfolding re-assessment of Cold War Britain by exploring and promoting Greenham’s lessons for the future as well as arguing for their (art) historical value.

 

 

Photograph: The fence at Greenham Common with additions by protesters from the Peace Camp (1982) by Sigrid Møller, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, slides scanned by Holger Terp, June 2006. Included in The Danish Peace Academy Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp’s Songbook, http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/abase/sange/greenham/sigrid/sigrid11.htm