‘We want work, but in order to keep the product. No more exploiters, no more masters. Work and well-being for all.’
(Elisabeth Dimitrieff, “Appel aux citoyennes de Paris’, Journal Officiel, April 11, 1871, 25)
From 18 March to its bloody suppression on 28 May 1871, the Paris Commune was a brief time of the most extraordinary political experimentation. For ten weeks, a worker-led insurrection took over the city. Together, men and women built and defended barricades, evictions were banned, night working abolished, education transformed. Although derisively labelled ‘les petroleuses’ at the time and often unacknowledged in accounts, women played an indispensable and courageous role in every aspect of the Commune.
As Carolyn Eichner comments
‘The Commune, as a short–lived overthrow of the patriarchal status quo, served as an incubator for embryonic feminist socialisms. During the insurrection, feminist socialists played central intellectual and popular roles as journalists, organisers, orators, protestors, nurses, cooks and fighters. they shaped the face of the Parisian revolution and, subsequently, influenced the idea of women and revolution well into the next century in Europe and beyond’.
In the infamous ‘Bloody Week’ of May 21-28, 1871, the Versailles army stormed Paris, using heavy artillery. Around 20,000 Parisians were summarily executed, and 40,000 more were marched to Versailles for imprisonment in France or deportation and forced labor in the penal colonies of French Guyana and New Caledonia.
The act of naming, acknowledges and honours a life lived. On the Commune’s 150th anniversary, each week for the next ten weeks, I will remember and celebrate a different woman communard, creating a letterpress name print, producing an informational text and creating a short freely improvised sonic piece (3 mins max) using various instruments, in dedication to each of these ‘unruly women of Paris.’
Check back on this page each Thursday for the next ten weeks to follow the project. Each week I will upload dedicated art, text and soundworks.
Click on the links below to go to the page:
My letterpress prints are made on paper salvaged from a discarded series of 19thc technical manuals sourced in Tarnac, a small rural community in Corrèze, one of the ‘reddest cantons in France as a whole’ (Ad Knotter, ‘Little Moscows in Western Europe: the Ecology of Small-place Communism’, International Review of Social History, 2011)
(Also see my collaboration with Lyn Hodnett as Les Petroleuses )
Here are a few useful general sources on the Paris Commune and Women Communards – scroll down individual web pages above for more sources though
K. Ross, Communal Luxury, 2015
C. Eichner, Surmounting the Barricades, Women in the Paris Commune, 2004
G. Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris, 1996
E. Thomas, The Women Incendiaries, 1966