Sylvia Pankhurst .com - an Interactive Learning Resource
Font size: A A A


Sahlstrom Tapestry 1
Sylvia Pankhurst: No. 3 in the series of tapestries by Berit Sahlström
West Dene
Sylvia with Emperor Haile Selassie: No. 6 in the series of Sylvia Pankhurst tapestries by Berit Sahlström

It was natural to start with Sylvia Pankhurst in my 'Portraits of Remarkable Women' project. But I did not know it was going to take seven tapestry weavings and one and a half years before I could continue with other great women… I had read Sylvia's outstanding book, A Cultural History of Ethiopia before I met her son Richard and her daughter-in-law Rita in Addis Ababa in 1988. I remember their faces from that first time: Rita clear and sincere, Richard humble, yet taking part in the discussion on his own terms. He listened with his lips apart, a similar expression to Sylvia’s, even in one of her early self portraits.

The first Sylvia tapestry became a Mona Lisa with women’s lib and Attac pins on her jacket, the second pictured dignified intimacy, the third was an unintentional search for what Sylvia was up to, and thereby how I met her, weaving in some of myself and my dreams into the weft, the fourth was a modern Byzantine Madonna, the fifth a Socialist intellectual. The sixth was based on a snapshot where a triangular male contact took place between the photographer, young boy Richard, Haile Selassie (at the time in exile in UK) and a security guard. Naturally, Sylvia was in the centre, yet not giving attention to her position in her son’s documentation. I wove Sylvia in green and white, melting into the background, to strengthen the role she often played – in the centre and with her mission in mind, but with little interest in her own position. The seventh portrait, the elderly Sylvia Pankhurst, talked to me from the warp and said, as elderly women can do: 'Now, that is enough!' So I continued with Selma Lagerlöf, Vandana Shiva, Wangerai Maathai…

Berit Sahlström

More about Berit Sahlström's tapestries

Also in the 'Modern Perspectives' section:
Modern Perspectives: Introduction, The Very Revd Dr John Arnold, Berit Sahlström, Sylvia Ayling, Baroness Betty Boothroyd, Peter Tatchell, Linda Perham, Diana Kurakin, Shirley Harrison and Geoffrey Lusty