“I think it was a mission because you were doing something you believed in and were part of a movement you believed in,” says Rebecca Wilson, one of the curators of a new exhibition in Hackney celebrating the community activism of a well-known Haggerston screen printing workshop.
For Wilson, the iconic Lenthall Road workshop in the 1970s-1990s was more than a place where posters were made. “You were helping a person that you met and they produced 200 posters that were useful to them but you also felt that you were contributing to a wider political context where that actually mattered and people were able to share their campaign when before they may not have been able to,” she adds.
The workshop helped contribute to a national movement of grassroots arts, radical politics, feminism, anti-racism and LGBT+ rights by supporting these groups with facilities and training to help them spread their messages.
‘Women on Screens: Printmaking, photography and community activism at Lenthall Road Workshop 1970s–1990s’ in Hackney Museum aims to shine a light on that work, looking at the history, cultural significance and art that was made there.
It features original posters and queer slogan t-shirts made at the workshop as well as equipment that the women used at workshop along with an insight into how screen printing works.
Lenthall Road workshop was started in 1975, by three women as a community printing and photography project which offered people a cheap and friendly space to learn how to make their own posters.
Printing equipment was expensive at the time and professional printers could refuse to print any messages that they thought were too radical so Lenthall Road workshop helped empower people that were fighting for change in Hackney.
Wilson, who also worked at Lenthall Road for three years, told Eastlondonlines: “Our main mission was screen printing so a lot of it was campaign works. Someone would come in and need a poster for a campaign so we’d either do it for them but the main reason for the workshop was to empower people so they could do it for themselves. Nowadays it’s so easy to use Instagram or twitter but then producing a poster was quite a big deal.”
“It took about three years to get the exhibition together. Somebody had a poster, someone else had a poster, they looked in the loft and under the bed, people kept things. One person knew somebody else. It took time to find the right space and it took time to get the right people together to make it work.”
“It’s totally been worth it and it’s also been fascinating. There are so many blasts from the past and so many people that I didn’t even know who have brought the legacy from the past and handed it on. It’s really nice to see that continue and see that so many people cared about the workshop and cared about the work enough to keep it going.
“The exhibition is about empowering, it’s about doing it yourself, having an idea, making something and sharing your ideas with others. I know it’s easier now but it’s still relevant because the mass media is so powerful, actually extending your own message is the struggle.
“People will learn that things have changed but some things have stayed the same. Maybe the way people share information is different but the struggles people face are the same.”
Shacklewell Councillor Michelle Gregory who used the Lenthall Road workshop and was involved in the Hackney arts movement said at the exhibition launch last week: “Lenthall Road workshop contributed to a better Hackney. I personally want to thank the women of Lenthall Road workshop because you helped contribute to our history but more importantly, you helped contribute to the continuing future and development of people who live in this borough and we owe you a massive thanks, gratitude and appreciation.
‘Women on Screens: Printmaking, photography and community activism at Lenthall Road Workshop 1970s–1990s’ is being displayed at Hackney Museum until August 31.