Nicci Wonnacott

Story Number:Story-008
Themes: Art Action, networks, Refuge, VAWG

I was at art college and I thought I would come out painting Devon landscapes [laughs], was my pre-conceived idea of being an art student, and actually I came out as a performance artist interested in art action so art action, and activism and performance are really how I work as an activist artist. There are, there’s, there’s so many things I, I can’t remember, but what I would like to talk about is the work that I created for the closure of the women’s refuge in Exeter. And, um, I made a call for people to come and quietly protest on Mothering Sunday, and we went to the Cathedral Green – it’s a very public site for art action – and I laid out my banner ‘Devon women united for peace’ and called some other activists up to help me spread the word; it was very much my first Facebook campaign, I suppose, to, uh, make a call. And, um, people bought flowers and we made a beautiful shrine around the banner, and about 300 people turned up which was amazing. Families, mums, dads; we all sat down and had a picnic, the weather was good, and what it turned out to be was a, a safe place for people to talk. Because many people had been told they weren’t allowed to discuss the closure of the refuge in a public, um, forum. And so there had been quite a lot of fear of, around what people could say to each other; many of them had been trusted colleagues working together for many years, the nature of a refuge means that there’s a real safety net within the work that goes on there. So – because this protest was out in the open it allowed them to talk more freely and say what they really meant without fear of the, you know, the walls having ears.

Uh it got a, a lot of coverage, we were on, uh, national BBC1 News and the local news. Uh, by that time the deed had been done and the refuge was just about to be closed. So we were also discussing what the future would be for women in Devon who needed refuge. And the very word ‘refuge’ – to take that away from vulnerable survivors of domestic violence, for me, is cruel. So that’s why I was so passionate about rising the agenda.

My work looking back on it has really made me feel very proud and very inspired to be working with such a fantastic body of women in Exeter, for example, and to continue to make some noise [chuckles] about what we need for the future for ourselves and our daughters. I don’t think my work will ever be done. I’ll continue for as long as I possibly can to, to promote women! [laughs].