The banner that celebrates 100 years of sistership

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With creativity flowing through her entire being, artist and storyteller Lizzie McDougall loves nothing more than working on art projects that connect people to traditional stories and nature. Her latest project is a beautiful banner called Am Bhata, the Sistership Banner.

“It represents the journey all women are on towards equality and, in particular, women in rural areas of Scotland and the highlands,” says Lizzie, who is a familiar figure at Perthshire’s Fingask Castle Follies.

“Over the last 30 years I have worked with many amazing women who have contributed massively to the development of the arts in rural areas and I’m aware of the challenges they have had to overcome to do this but also the spirit that motivates them,” she continues.

“I wanted to elevate and celebrate what wonderful things women have achieved and came up with the design of the boat to express the on-going progress and need for balance of this journey.

“I liked the idea of the banner ‘sailing’ when it is carried, and I have filled it with characters that tell stories great and small. I wanted it to make a powerful point but do it gracefully.

“The slogan, Boats for Women, is a metaphor for opportunity, the possibility for making connections and fulfilling talents.”

The banner is part of the Living Art Work, Procession, organised by art organisation Artichoke, and is touring the UK with 99 other banners to mark 100 years since women first got the vote. It took around 15 weeks to make with around 30 women and girls working on it, although, says Lizzie, “they were never all in the same place at the same time!”

So how did Lizzie go about designing and creating it?

“I researched the original banners the suffragists made and came up with the concept of the boat as a good way of using the shape of a banner. I think I was unconsciously inspired by the procession being like a river,” she reflects.

“The idea was to celebrate women who had made a significant contribution to highland life in many areas. As a storyteller and artist, I’m drawn to illustrating stories, so first I had to listen to the stories and then come up with images to represent them,” she continues.

“The challenge was to listen to ideas from 30 very different women, who were never in the same place and did not know each other, I identified common themes and to find a way of illustrating them, I simplified the themes in to characters to represent all women – some themes were universal and some were very personal.”

Stories ranged from individual tales, women who against the odds have become highly successful business women, politicians, promoters of art and culture, musicians, scientists, doctors, farmers, teachers, and Lizzie explains what’s going on in the banner.

“The large figure on the left is the Pictish Queen – in Pictish times inheritance was through the female line so it’s good to have this strong role model from the distant past when women were so respected. She is also a mother, single-handedly feeding the baby while steering the ship,” she says.

“Then there is the crofter, shepherdess, representing women who have for a century cared for the land.

“The girl in the centre is leading us bravely into the future. She is wearing a rugby shirt because at the first session a participant’s daughter said she thought girls should be allowed to play rugby.

“Beside her are a healer, a creative musician wearing a hand-made batik dress, a woman in a hard hat putting dreams into plans and the piper, creating the wind to fill the sail. Breaking the mould of the piper as military figure, ours has fairy wings, wellie boots and mini skirt, because she wants to.

“They are all in their way role models for the children, who are also our inspiration. Oh and We have included the kitchen sink, but haven’t done the dishes! The hull of the boat contains many symbols which support us – the mountains, the language and culture.”

All kinds of fabrics were used in the banner, from the procession colours of green, white and violet to reflect the secret code used by suffragists to turquoise and amethyst to reflect the sea on a sunny day.

“It was fantastic to be part of this massive art work and to make something that had a significant message,” smiles Lizzie. “Our journey is driven by a will to make a better world for children everywhere.”