I will be talking at this event to go with my exhibition
Some extracts from ‘Everywoman and the Angel of Death’
- Date –
- LocationFirst Floor Gallery
- Times11am – 5pm – Tuesday to Sunday
The Women’s Peace Camp was originally established at RAF Greenham Common, Berkshire, to protest against the nuclear weapons that were being housed there. The majority of protest was undertaken during the 1980s, including famous actions such as ‘Embrace the Base’, where hundreds of women joined hands in a giant circle around the perimeter of the base. Although the missiles were removed in the early 1990s, protests continued at the site for years. Today, Greenham Common contains many traces and memorials of the protest and camps that happened there and is still an emotive symbol of Women’s Activism.
Payen’s exhibition explores the protests, stories of the women who were involved in the peace camps and the site today. Inspired by growing up in the community close to the site, research in the archives, interviews with the women who were involved in the protests and extensive site visits to Greenham Common as it is now, Payen explores Greenham’s continued relevance today.
Here is a post about the different gates at Greenham written by John Walker.
In 1981 the Greenham Common Peace Camp began. Over the years the Greenham women established several different gates and they named them after the seven colours of the rainbow. This was an organic process which began with main gate (also known as yellow gate), then followed by the set up of Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, Red, Orange, Turquoise and Emerald gate. Different groups of people went to different gates, each gate had a different issue, there was not just one agenda to campaign against, there were many. In 1982, it was the year in which the Greenham women really began to find their feet, starting with the protest about the sewage pipes, which was the first stage of the development.
Due to the volume of publicity following a vast number of demonstrations, the small group of protesters at main gate soon grew enormously in numbers. Sometimes the women were joined by hundreds or even thousands. This then became the start of how different camps were set up, as one woman decided to set up her own gate near the silos – this became known as Green Gate. The different gates became an official part of the Greenham Common landscape, to which even the MoD police used to reference each gate by.
To try and maintain a level of safety for each gate, for security measures against the multiple threats the women faced, the women at Greenham would have a person appointed to do a night watch. These would often be working women or women who would have travelled down. Once they had finished their night watch they would then go off to work.
Personally the women at Greenham represent a lot of things. Reading and hearing about the different gates, what they stood for, who lived at each gate, what different actions they did, how they lived together, it really illustrates the independence and the ability to make great achievements together. They are strong, smart and creative women who, despite the political situation and the dangers surrounding them, created an environment where they were able to be free, be themselves, explore who they were and who they wanted to be. The rainbow has many symbolic representations throughout different cultures in history. It can represent diversity, social change and hope, which is exactly what the women at Greenham represented and much more.
Main gate/ Yellow gate.
Main gate, later known to be called Yellow Gate, was the first gate which was set up by the women at Greenham. One of the major actions they were known for was to have a teddy bears picnic. Yellow gate was also regarded as one of the more political gates.
Green gate was the first additional camp that was set up and it was based near the silos. It has been said that the symbolic web weaving first originated from this gate. Despite the 1980s being a time of oppression for the gay and lesbian community, sexuality wasn’t necessarily an issue for the women at Greenham. The environment became an opportunity for the women to explore their own sexuality and freedom, which led to some women who identified as being lesbian to be open and able to explore and celebrate it. These women mostly stayed at Green gate.
This gate it notable for many different famous actions taken. One of the most religious symbolic action involved a huge cross and a bible. They went through three lots of barbed wire with the cross whilst singing the Passion of Saint John. However, once this action came to court, there was total denial about the cross, so the case became suspended.
Green gate was also important because near the area the women used the solid clay from the ground, in order to make the modelled goddesses. This was another important action which freaked out the army, as they were left around the base.
Blue gate was set up by Rebecca Johnson due to finding Yellow Gate ‘claustrophobic’ and also it suited to the camps tactics to find a location that was near the Centre of Newbury. This camp was set up on Bury Banks road and this location gave the women a visible presence to the public and visitors.
This gate could be considered one of the most diversive gates due to having a mix of different types of women. It had either a very religious group of people, artists, lesbians and also very young women. The camp had a lot of young runaways, who had just left home to be independent and to get out of the environment they were in. For some women, it was an opportunity to open up and tell stories to each other, and due to this open dialogue amongst each other they really learnt a lot about domestic violence, incest and abuse, for some women this would have been the first time to hear first hand such stories. During the 1980s, these issues were not really an openly discussed topic, hence why some of the younger women aged from as young as 15 years old ran away.
Due to this gates location and some of the more young boisterous women, they became under threat from local neighbours, yobs and local authorities. They became a focus for multiple attacks, for example dog walkers would walk through their tents, people defecated in the tents and they became the first call for bailiffs on evictions.
Orange gate was set up around the same time as blue gate. However, its atmosphere was different to Blue Gate and attracted different types of characters of women. Due to its locations being further away from the public domain and locals, it meant that it was more of a safer environment in comparison to other gates. It’s defined as a less severe gate and catered for women who were older or who brought their children to Greenham. In fact, women from Durham would often come to Orange Gate. One of the actions orange gate are known for is when they cut back a large section of the fence and rolled it back. They went into the base and there was a bus, which the women got in and drove around the camp site, picking up other women, finally driving to the silos where they eventually got caught and had to give themselves up.
Emerald gate was based near the silos, however this gate would stop and start because it was the gate closest to keeping an eye on the British army men guarding the site. This gate is considered to have had high importance amongst the women of Greenham due to playing such a vital role in keeping an eye of what was going on, Emerald gate was important. However the solders behaved badly towards the women at this gate, for example throwing stones at the women.
The remaining gates
The remaining gates, Red, Violet and Indigo were set up the later in the following years due to the huge influx of women gathering. When the nuclear missiles had actually arrived, this prompted more women to come and protest, hence the need for these extra gates.
Women from Manchester would often prefer to go to Red gate. Violet gate was known for chatting up the soldiers through the barbed wire, taking a more conventional feminine approach.
Here is a picture of John on site at Greenham Common.