dismorr, the engine

This month Flashpoint Mag launched an issue devoted to Blast magazine in its centenary year. Having heard about the work I did on Jessie Dismorr during my undergraduate degree they asked if I would submit something so that they could give the women of Blast the coverage they deserve.  You can read my piece on ‘Walking and Rewriting London’ here.  My essay considers the relation of Dismorr to the feminist and metropolitan cultures of her day and I argue that her writings for Blast represent a personal rewriting of the patriarchal city – an architectural prose which re-conceptualizes the London of 1915.

I discovered Jessie Dismorr’s work in Blast during my degree and enjoyed hunting down new sources for her work and exploring the significance and feminism of her short experiments in the world of prose. You can read some of my reflections on different aspects of her work and career on my old blog, where I was tracking my research: Jessie Dismorr- Vorticist Streets, Jessie Dismorr and Rhythm, The Omnibus.

But my return to Jessie Dismorr’s prose has been an ‘interlude of high-love making’ and I must get back to the ‘life of thoroughfares to which I belong (i.e the subject of my PhD!).

I wander in the precincts of stately urban houses.  Moonlight carves them in purity. The presence of these great and rectangular personalities is a medicine. They are the children of colossal restraint, they are the last word of prose. (Poetics, your day is over!)  In admiring them I have put myself on the side of all severities.  I seek the profoundest teachings of the inanimate.  I feel the emotion of related shapes.  Oh, discipline of ordered pilasters and porticoes!  My volatility rests upon you as a swimmer hangs upon a rock. (Dismorr, ‘June Night’)

Richard Warren, whose blog provides a wonderful and extensive archive of Dismorr’s work, references my work before exploring Flanerie and Loss on the No.43 bus: Jessie Dismorr and Rosemary Tonks:

‘The new Flashpoint online magazine has a useful piece by Francesca Brooks on Jessie Dismorr, Vorticist painter, poet and flâneuse, whose artworks and writings can be found extensively on my pages up above. Brooks focuses pretty much entirely on Dismorr’s two urbanist prose poems published in 1915 in Blast 2. Her tie-in of Dismorr with Guy Debord and the dérive is apt and necessary; we can easily overlook the romantic roots of situationist thought, and the dérive is derived from Baudelairean flânerie.’


This month I wrote an article for the wonderful feminist Collage Magazine on female bodies and political power. The essay begins with the French Revolution and the example of Helen Maria Williams’ political discourse, bodies publicly executed in the amphitheatre of the Tuilleries; and moves to our contemporary political landscape, including Louise Mensch and Kate Middleton. You can read my essay alongside others in the new issue of Collage on Women and the Revolution, by following the link to Issuu here: Here are a couple of teasers for you here anyway.
marie antoinette scaffold

“Within the female body of the Marianne of French Liberty, depicted bare-breasted in semblance of her maternal and sexual power, women of the French Revolution found a utopian ideal for their involvement in, and centrality to, the new politics of La Republique. From the platform upon which a statue (whether it be the Virgin Mary or Joan D’Arc) is raised, to the ‘amphitheatre’ of public executions; the stage of the French Revolution provided women with an arena within which their formerly private bodies (consigned to the sexual politics of the bedroom) could become public and political signifiers.  The new feminine La Republique of France emblematised in the figure of Liberty, appeared to found itself upon feminine values and opened out a space for women to construct a feminised political discourse within a new world of active political engagement. ”

Liberty Leading the People, 1830, by Eugene Delacroix“If it is Liberty and the Marianne who are the seed of William’s statuesque portraits, then it is Liberty we must return to in determining the political effectiveness of such memorialisation. At University my supervisor forced me to scrutinise Delacroix’s Liberty Guiding the People until I relented: I satisfied his palpable, unspoken desire, and commented on Liberty’s bare breasts. What do you notice? What do you notice about Liberty? He insisted.

That soft curve of pale flesh is the very centre of this painting, it is the most obvious thing – so why mention it? In that moment it felt like I wasn’t just being forced to recognise a naked pair of breasts, I was also being made to feel aware of my ‘otherness’, of my own body. Liberty is powerful, defiant, a glorious and beautiful figure to lead, but she is also a woman and those bare breasts are an incontrovertible reminder: they are her weakness. She is not like Joan of Arc: she is not sexless, she is sexy. That is not to say that heroism must be sexless, but simply to acknowledge the symbolically loaded binarism which divides and excludes.  Liberty leads the people, but do we ever truly see her as a leader?”

Louise Mensch

“There are countless current examples of women using their bodies in a play for political power; whether it is the wives of politicians and presidents who have electoral sway equivalent to the success of their wardrobe choices, or news of highly charged political affairs such as Monica Lewinsky’s ‘improper relations’ with Bill Clinton. The debate about whether women can effectively use their bodies for political power is as relevant now as it was to Williams.

I started out with the idea that my contemporary parallel might come from current female politicians; if Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga MPs seemed too continental, then perhaps Louise Mensch under the glaring lights of an ‘Iron Maiden’ photo-shoot for GQ (all soft silk and leather panelled pencil skirt), could be my new politically revolutionary pin-up. But the problem was that these examples had very little power as icons, a niche magnetism perhaps: obsessive-Menschites and scandalized Berlusconi commentators aside, these bodies hadn’t affected very much change.

If there is any icon capable of becoming the female embodiment of contemporary Britain in the same way that the Marianne represented La Republique of France, it has to be Kate Middleton: an aspirational symbol for recession-beaten and coalition-confused GB.  She is certainly not revolutionary, but she is stability. She is painfully corporeal in the way that the 21st century has idealised: thin and taut like our models and our cover girls but classically feminine with flowing dark hair and now a modestly growing pregnant belly. “

‘[…] the female body’s bounty and its ardour, often denoted by the bare breast, has been seen to possess the energy a society requires for the utopian condition, lawful liberation. But it has done so only by recapitulating the ancient and damaging equivalences between male and culture, female and nature. Otherness is a source of potential and power; but it cannot occupy the centre.’ Marina Warner, Monuments and Maidens

Liberty Leading the People, 1830, by Eugene Delacroix

Liberty Leading the People, 1830, Eugene Delacroix

Yesterday I had an exciting conversation with the editor of feminist arts and culture magazine, Collage.  The upcoming issue will focus on women and revolution and I’ve decided to write a piece about the feminine and the female body in the French Revolution.

At University I wrote an essay about the writer Helen Maria Williams and her account of the French Revolution, written in epistolary form as a political commentary. My work focused on the feminisation of politics – the Marianne of the French Republic and Delacroix’s Liberty, and Williams’ portrayal of the guillotine as ‘political amphitheatre’ as she wrote up countless portraits of France’s political women at the moment of their execution.


Ian Hamilton Finlay’s La Femmes de la Revolution

I’m looking forward to revisiting the topic to think about women’s bodies in politics and drawing on some new and diverse material. I’ve started off with a little research into contemporary politics, in particular Louise Mensch and Silvio Berlusconi’s lady politicians. I’m also wondering if I can fit Ian Hamilton Finlay’s obsession with the French Revolution in somewhere.

Another exciting project.


2013 is promising a couple of exciting writing projects. I’ll be collaborating with artists Rebecca Scott and Cécile Emmanuelle Borra on an exhibition they are putting on for the One Billion Rising Art Festival during February. I’m going to be interviewing both of the artists on their work, their relationship to feminism, and creating an exhibition text.

At the end of last year I went to Cécile’s flat and studio to talk about Feminism, fashion, growing up in France, reversing the gaze and not being obsessed with penises. Here are a few of the photographs taken by Levin Haegele.


(c) Toby Summerskill


On Sunday 25th November, East London Fawcett Group (ELF) hosted an event to raise awareness of the challenges facing women in sport and to raise money for female boxers in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The event included a panel discussion, with guest speakers Kate Johnson, United States Olympic Medal-Winner for Rowing, Stylist Magazine’s Francesca Brown, Great Britain Long jump Athlete,Abigail Irozuru and Trecia Kaye-Smith, Jamaican Triple-Jump Athlete. The event also saw Naomi Gibson, Founder of women-only boxing club Girls in Gloves in conversation with young British Boxer and Artist Lucy May. The event closed with a film by Melanie BrownFighting for Peace: Kabul’s Female Boxers, which was introduced by Melanie in conversation with ELF’s Head of Fundraising,Dani Mason.

(c) Toby Summerskill

(c) Toby Summerskill

The film documents three young female Afghan boxers, Sadaf Rahimi, Halima and Shamila, as they struggle to pursue their passion for a male dominated sport in a patriarchal society. The event raised over £400, which will go towards purchasing new sporting equipment and a boxing ring for the girls in Kabul and inaugurates a Foundation focused on bringing the boxers to the UK where they have been invited to participate in specialist training.

The event raised important questions, such as what role and responsibility do parents have for encouraging sport in girls; why are successful female athletes trumped on sponsorship deals by their male counterparts; is sports coaching a man’s game?

Francesca Brown, who leads Stylist’s Fair Game Campaign and chaired the discussion, reported that women earning over £50,000 per year are more likely to play sports an average of 3 times per week, whereas those earning less than £15,000 are likely to have no involvement in sport. This highlighted the relationship between sport and class and an economic obstacle that forms just one of the many barriers to women’s involvement in sport. Panellists also spoke of creating a level playing field in schools and the disparity in the quality of sports education between private and state-funded schools.


(c) Toby Summerskill

All participants emphasised the value of sport, referencing benefits for women including increased confidence, physical health, capacity for self-defence and general quality of life and happiness. Trecia Kaye-Smith and Abigail Irozuru were a huge inspiration to the audience, sharing the highs and lows from their careers at the top of their game. Olympic Medal-Winner and Senior Marketing Executive, Kate Johnson, shocked the audience by describing her experience on the starting line of an Olympic Final, worrying about fat showing – demonstrating the huge pressure to look good on even the most successful, intelligent and talented of women.

Hosts for the event, Margaret Pope and the Body Studio, will be driving the campaign and fundraising agenda forward by launching a Foundation to support sportswomen in developing countries in receiving the necessary training and equipment to reach their potential.

ELF volunteers will be forming campaigns and organising activities that respond to the challenges raised by the event. If you’d like to be involved email:

(c) Toby Summerskill

(c) Toby Summerskill

Of the many things keeping me busy recently,  there has been planning for the upcoming East London Fawcett event and campaign launch, ELF Presents: Women in Sport.  Here’s an article I wrote as a preview for the Hackney Citizen. Come along next Saturday if you can.

From Melanie Brown’s Fighting for Peace

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, East London Fawcett Group is hosting an event on Sunday 25 November to highlight women in sport.

Celebrating both the achievements of those who have been successful in a male-dominated industry and highlighting the challenges faced by women in the sporting world, this will be the launch of an ongoing campaign for a level playing field in women’s sport.

The event will be held in the Body Studio on Rivington Street which is run by director and founder Margaret Pope, and hosts the girls-only boxing group, Girls in Gloves: a playful choice as the event aims to raise funds for a group of women boxers in Kabul.

Stylist Magazine’s Francesca Brown, who leads the publication’s Fair Game campaign, believes sport is “the last bastion of sexism”.

Brown will be speaking at the event along with Daily Mail sports journalist Laura Williamson, who points out just how striking the gender divide is across sport when she questions, “how come female athletes still only receive around 0.5 per cent of all sponsorship and two per cent of media coverage?”

It’s certainly true that sport still has an overwhelming male identity. If a woman is ‘sporty’ or has an ‘athletic’ body then she faces being seen as masculine.

In a world where we are supposed to have equality this is definitely a very limited perception.

Since Olympic fever swept the nation, gossip magazines and other parts of the media have been asking women if they ‘want abs like Jessica Ennis’: one small sign that our attitudes to sportswomen might be changing. The Olympics certainly seems to have given us plenty of new female role models to aspire to.

Williamson believes that the “true legacy” of the Olympic Games “could be to end the idea of ‘women’s sport’ in this country. There’s no such thing as ‘women’s sport’: it’s just sport played by women.”

East London Fawcett’s campaign is pitched during a landmark year for women’s sports. This year there were more British women taking part in the Olympics than ever before (262 in total).

These women also made up a higher proportion of the overall team than in any previous games (48%).

On an international level, London 2012 was the first time that women were able to participate in every sport and the first time that all competing countries had female athletes.

If there was ever a time to fight for gender equality in sport, it seems this is it. Brown comments: “It’s grassroots events like this which are slowly changing things for the better.”

The campaign launch includes guest speakers such as Jamaican athlete and triple-jumper, Trecia-Kaye Smith, journalists Laura Williamson and Francesca Brown, along with director of the Body Studio, Margaret Pope, and Founder of Girls in Gloves, Naomi Gibson.

There will also be a special screening of Fighting for Peace: Kabul’s Female Boxers, a photofilm by multimedia journalist, Melanie Brown.

East London Fawcett Women in Sport
Sunday 25 November 2012, 3-5pm.
Body Studio
89a Rivington Street

Tickets: £5, concessions £2
To register, email:

Finally the word is spreading through the press and across the world about the results of East London Fawcett’s Frieze Art Audit.



All eyes were on London during Frieze Art Fair 2012 as it showcased the best the art world has to offer, to members of the public and art collectors alike. As part of its Great East London Art Audit campaign, East London Fawcett Group (ELF) took the opportunity to audit the galleries exhibiting at this year’s Frieze as part of their wider investigation into gender inequality in the art world.

In April 2012 ELF launched the Great East London Art Audit in order to generate up to date statistics that reflect the representation of women in the arts. The campaign invites members of the public to consider the gender ratio within galleries, museums, art prizes, public projects and publications by counting the number of male and female artists being featured. Ahead of publishing the results of this year-long project, ELF conducted a special project focusing on Frieze Art Fair 2012.

The ELF audit team analysed the list of artists represented by each of the international galleries exhibiting in the commercial section of this year’s Frieze and collated the following results from the data gathered*:

27.5% of the artists represented at Frieze Art Fair 2012 are women (excluding collaborations and taken from a cumulative total of the amount of women represented by each gallery)

1.5% of the galleries represent less than one third male artists, 67% of the galleries represent less than one third female artists

3.7% of the galleries at Frieze 2012 represent the same number of male and female artists

8.9 % of the galleries represent an equal number of male and female artists or more female artists than male

6% of the galleries represent only one or no female artists

As well as auditing the galleries exhibiting at the art fair, ELF took a look at the commercial galleries across London and discovered that 23.3% of solo exhibitions hosted by these galleries during Frieze 2012 were by female artists. In 2008, Laura McLean-Ferris, Art Review’s current editor-at-large, conducted her own survey of the solo shows being presented by London’s commercial galleries during the art fair and discovered that 11.6% of these shows were by women.** Whilst these comparative statistics imply that the situation for women practicing as artists is improving, the figures from 2012 remain hugely disproportionate.

Laura McLean-Ferris commented, “It’s good to see that things are changing slowly. I do believe that things will improve over time.” She also pointed out that much of the inequality is historic, “the roots of the trouble are in another generation. It’s important that in this time, for the groups of artists that are emerging now, that we don’t allow those patterns to repeat, and don’t, by some strange default position, look to male artists to point the way forward.”

In October 2011 ELF hosted a panel discussion in order to identify problem areas for women in the arts and to think about how to tackle them in a positive fashion. The event, which brought together leading figures in the arts, revealed that often people think that equality has already been achieved in the arts due to the fact that improvements have indeed been made and that inspirational figures such as Tracey Emin, who have defied the statistics, exist in the public arena – but the truth is that women are still severely under-represented in the art world. In order to raise awareness of the inequality that persists, ELF launched the Great East London Art Audit.

The director of ELF’s Art Campaign, Gemma Rolls-Bentley says, “we decided that to convince people that there is still inequality in the arts, we need to use a combo of hard stats and personal experience. Those two things together can build a successful campaign.”

The campaign celebrates and takes inspiration from the women who have achieved success, as well as the galleries and museums that support them; the audit is complimented by a varied programme of events including gallery tours, artist-led workshops, curator talks and group discussion.

The ongoing work of the volunteer-run campaign aims to provide a body of relevant statistics that will inspire a dialogue around the specific challenges faced by women in the arts and in the hope of encouraging people to make positive change.


For more information about the Great East London Art Audit please visit:

*. These results reflect a survey of 3441 artists across 135 galleries

**. ‘Totally Wack: What Happened to the Feminist Surge’, Laura Mclean-Ferris, Art Review, September 2008


Read the Huffington Post’s feature, Art Info’s comments and how the report made it stateside.