Ghosts of her Rag Sons
Artwork of the Month | January
Himarni Brownsword, Ghosts of Her Rag Sons, 2018
Back in 2018, I was asked by North Staffordshire based art organisation B-Arts to complete a project entitled ‘What is Now?’ in Burslem, one of the six towns that make up my hometown, Stoke-on-Trent. It also houses one of the country's emptiest high streets. As part of the project, six artists, including myself, and producers were asked to reimagine the high street in Burslem and to create and install artworks in the town’s empty shops. The resulting project came to be ‘Ghosts of her Rag Sons’, an installation created in order to explore Burslem’s rich heritage.
The shop I exhibited my work in had previously been a pet shop, among other things. However, what was most significant about it was that it was also attached to a passageway that used to lead towards Burslem’s historic market. Burslem was once known as the ‘mother town’ of Stoke; it’s where Josiah Wedgwood was born and housed many of the important pottery factories that the city is most famous for. However, I feel that this past is not something that is reflected in the town’s current state. Thus, when I was asked to envision what the high street in Burslem could be, I decided to create an installation that explored the town’s history through some of its most famous (and infamous) figures.
The characters I created were made of wood, wire, straw and raw clay. Each of the figures was handmade and pieced together in situ. There were 12 in total, some representing soldiers, poets, artists and others representing unsung local legends. The central figure, who came to be the ‘mother’ of Burslem, was Molly Leigh, a woman accused of being a witch in the 18th century, but who was, in fact, a wealthy woman with independence and a charitable nature who many were suspicious of. The shop I displayed in didn’t have any electricity or running water making it extremely difficult to work with the raw materials. This often meant producer Martin Gooding, who helped curate the installation, and I would have to work in pitch-black or fetch water from the KFC across the road covered in clay and freezing despite the summer weather. Regardless, the response the project received made it all worth it in the end; I was really pleased to find that many who visited my exhibition began to engage more with the history of the area as well as imagine what Burslem could look like in the future.