Not on display
- Andrea Bowers born 1965
- Ink on cardboard
- Support: 3505 × 3124 mm
- Lent by the Tate Americas Foundation courtesy of the North American Acquisitions Committee 2016
On long term loan
The Worker’s Maypole, An Offering for May Day 1894 (Illustration by Walter Crane) 2015 is a very large drawing in black permanent marker pen on reclaimed sections of cardboard boxes which have been assembled to form a rectangle with irregular edges. It is part of a larger body of work that Bowers started in 2012 using the same materials, which she chose to reflect those she saw being used that year in the Occupy encampments in New York, across the United States and elsewhere around the world, in protests against social and economic inequality. The images for Bowers’s drawings were taken from political pamphlets and graphic campaigns from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which she enlarged and adapted. For several of the source images, Bowers turned to the work of the British socialist artist and illustrator Walter Crane (1845–1915), whose painting The Renaissance of Venus 1877 (Tate N02920) is in Tate’s collection. Having been politicised by the writer, designer and activist William Morris (1834–1896) in the 1880s, Crane regularly contributed images to socialist publications in the 1890s such as The Comrade, Justice, The Commonweal and The Clarion.
Bowers’s source image for this particular work is Crane’s drawing The Worker’s Maypole 1894, published in The Clarion that year. The historian Helen Vera has described the image:
The 1894 cartoon depicts laborers frolicking, bare-footed, in an idyllic countryside, dressed in classicized tunics and shifts and apparently ready for work that is challenging and rewarding without being demoralizing or exhausting. They hold the ends of ribbons that flutter down from a personified May-Pole, a tall and wispy woman.
(Helen Vera, ‘“The Worker’s May-Pole” (1894) and “A Garland for May-Day” (1895): From Cartoons for the Cause’, exhibition website, Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven 2006, http://brbl-archive.library.yale.edu/exhibitions/illustratedword/craneCause/08-09crane.html, accessed August 2015.)
In Crane’s drawing, various banners are held above the dancers and ribbons are twirled around the maypole. The texts on these banners and ribbons are the typical demands and slogans of late-nineteenth-century socialism: ‘Neither Riches Nor Poverty’, ‘Abolition of Privilege’, ‘The Land for the People’, ‘Adult Suffrage’, ‘Eight Hours’, ‘Leisure for all’, ‘Employers’ Liability’, ‘No Starving Children In the Board’s Schools’ and ‘A Life Worth Living’. In enlarging and transferring Crane’s drawing, Bowers has changed some of these texts to reflect contemporary political campaigns. For instance, ‘Adult Suffrage’ becomes ‘Equal Pay’ and ‘Neither Riches Nor Poverty’ becomes ‘Healthcare is a Human Right’. In the centre of the composition, the ribbon that in Crane’s image reads ‘Eight Hours’ has become ‘Which Side Are You On?’.
Bowers’s work addresses contemporary political concerns through its use of everyday, inexpensive materials (in this case, reclaimed cardboard and permanent marker pen) and through slogans and questions which address the viewer directly. At the same time, she reflects on the historical precedents of current political campaigns in her choice of source material. Bowers also celebrates a continuity of political activism that links her work to a moment in the 1890s – represented by Walter Crane – just as Crane anchored his socialist message in the folk imagery of historical rural England. By making a link to both of these historical periods, Bowers shows that while some of the causes she discusses are prompted by very contemporary crises, the rights she demands are universal and timeless.
The Worker’s Maypole, An Offering for May Day 1894 (Illustration by Walter Crane) continues Bowers’s career-long concern with the intersection of art and politics, as well as her ongoing interest in the representation of women and women activists. Having made many works which included detailed pencil drawings of women protestors in the 1960s and 1970s feminist movements, Bowers was struck by the way in which the female figure was used in nineteenth-century socialist pamphlets. The women in such pamphlets were depicted as mythical and allegorical, rather than real historical individuals, and their bodies were usually idealised. Nonetheless, Bowers found these images inspiring. This is one reason for her use of the work of Crane and other period artists and illustrators. In The Worker’s May-Pole, the figure at the top of the pole and the central figure holding the ribbon reading ‘Which Side Are You On?’ are based on such idealised allegorical female figures.
Nothing is Neutral: Andrea Bowers, exhibition catalogue, CalArts Gallery at REDCAT, Valencia 2006.
Andrea Bowers, exhibition catalogue, Wiener Secession, Vienna 2007.
Rebecca McGrew (ed.), Andrea Bowers: Sweetjane, Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont 2014.
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