In 1974, a group of London art students founded the feminist print collective See Red Women’s Workshop. They taught themselves plumbing and carpentry skills while transforming a derelict building with no electricity into a fully functional screen-printing studio and meeting space. For the next 16 years, the more than 40 women organized consciousness-raising sessions, designed graphic posters railing against the division of labor, and educated youth groups about sexual and reproductive health.
The book See Red Women’s Workshop, published February 28 by Four Corner Books, traces the collective’s evolution in archival photographs of the printing process. The collection features correspondence letters with bookstore distributors, meeting memos, and preliminary sketches of poster designs.
Some prints are calendars riddled with blunt one-liners about workplace barriers (example: “Over 40, promotion given to younger man, go back to 29.”) or expectations at home (“Housework in the evening, exhausted.”) In 1979, one year after a coalition of black and Asian women put out the newsletter FOWAAD! to highlight how the women’s liberation movement often ignored issues affecting women of color, a See Red member created a poster that read, “Black Women Will Not Be Intimidated.”
In other illustrations from See Red’s early years, disgruntled women are shown scrubbing dishes and ironing clothes with subversive or irreverent text. One print with the slogan “Sisters! Question every aspect of our lives” shows women vacuuming, grocery shopping, and applying lipstick. While much of the group’s early work focused on attitudes toward marriage and domestic chores, later campaigns targeted equal pay, reproductive freedom, gay rights, and more racial inclusivity. Other campaigns targeted the closure of a women’s hospital in South London; the imprisonment of women in Armagh, Ireland; and the use of public money in funding Queen Elizabeth’s Silver jubilee celebration.
Printing was a male-dominated profession in the U.K. in the 1970s. See Red members graduated from art schools where less than a third of the students were female, and the instructors were all men. “The male students took up all the studio space,” one member explains in the book, and “there was little respect for our ideas: the assumption often was that we were probably only doing art as a hobby.”
The National Front, a far-right political group, frequently attacked See Red’s workshop space — pouring ink over the presses, cutting phone wires, posting neo-Nazi stickers on doors, urinating on their mail, and in one instance throwing bricks through a window.
In addition to external conflicts, there were also significant fissions within the group. As member Sue Field Read explains, “There were quite a few downs, mistakes and mis-printings, high emotions and disagreements — but then I suppose this happens whenever there is a group of people working very hard, with little financial support, with the serious aim of spreading important ideas in an uncaring selfish world.”
In 1982, See Red was awarded a government grant that allowed them to pay some members regular wages. This led to a series of irreparable divisions, as some members advocated that the paid positions should be filled by black, working class, and gay women, while others wanted the original collective members to assume paid positions. Buoyed by donations, calendar sales, and various commissioned print projects, See Red remained active until 1990.
Click through to see how the group deconstructed social expectations and fought for wage equality.