See Red Women’s Workshop was founded by three ex-art students in1974. We met through an ad placed in Red Rag — a radical feminist magazine — asking for women interested in forming a group to look at and combat the negative images of women in advertising and the media. See Red grew out of that meeting and a collective was formed producing silk screened posters for the women’s liberation movement as well as for community groups and others on request.
Working collectively was central to the ethos of See Red, as was sharing skills and knowledge. Members belonged to women’s consciousness raising groups and were active in various radical and alternative organisations. In the early days the posters were mainly produced about our own personal experiences as women, about the oppression of housework, childcare and the negative images of women. We also produced posters for community and other groups, calendars, postcards and illustrations. For all our work an idea would be discussed, a member would work on a design, bring it back for comment, someone else might make changes and so on until the collective were satisfied with the end result; no one individual took the credit. This was a concept many in the art world found hard to accept. Quality was important and many hours would be spent on ensuring that only posters that were well printed and produced left the workshop.
Our first premises were a squat in Camden Town but after a brick was thrown through the window, See Red moved to South London and eventually to premises off the Walworth Rd. The premises were derelict and all the renovations were carried out by the collective or by women in the building trades. The work shop was attacked on several occasions by the National Front, from stickers to smashed doors, ink poured over the machinery, phone lines were cut and the mail pissed over.
The collective on average consisted of about 6, but in all about 45 women passed through the workshop during its lifetime. Some were on apprenticeship schemes for a few months, others came to produce posters with the collective’s help around issues which were important to them. Until we received grants, first from Southwark Council and then the GLC in 1983, funding for the workshop came through the sale of the posters, printing for community and other groups and from donations. We all had part time jobs or child care commitments. Equipment, inks, paper etc. were acquired from firms closing down or again through donations.
Only oil-based inks were available at that time. The main printing technique was blocking out, using a water soluble filler; prints were initially hung on lines to dry, we then progressed to drying racks and only after a year or two was it possible to build a darkroom and buy the equipment so that photographic stencils could be introduced.
After 1984 the workshop focused more on designing and printing posters for women’s and community groups and although many of the original posters for the women’s movement continued to be reprinted and distributed no new See Red poster designs were produced. The workshop received funding for three years until the demise of the GLC in 1986. During this time, with support from Southwark Council, it also moved to improved premises in Camberwell. Funding enabled better equipment to be purchased and allowed the production of (even) higher quality prints, something that even small groups were increasingly expecting. Although the workshop continued after 1986, survival without additional funding was difficult especially as many of the groups coming in recent years had also been supported by grants. (There’s an argument here against grant dependency!) Demand for the original posters significantly declined and in any case, the margins were always deliberately narrow. Screen printing was also increasingly seen as an expensive way of getting posters made. The workshop finally closed in 1990.
Two of the founding members have died; Julia Franco in 1980 and Sarah Jones in 2007.
Surviving founder members Suzy Mackie and Pru Stevenson, plus later members Jess Baines and Anne Robinson, have in recent years been involved in various activities about the history of See Red, including putting this site together, various talks and exhibitions and the book about the workshop published by Four Corners.