In 1984 at the age of five, Kirsty Harris was taken by her mother Carol on a CND peace process. In a new exhibition titled Women Walked Onto The Base Last Tuesday Kirsty has gathered and displayed photographs from that day and has recreated artefacts using the images as source material. “To a five-year-old the atmosphere at protests felt communal, celebratory and often wet, cold and muddy,” says Kirsty. “The show embodies this perspective of nostalgia rather than the militant activism that was often countered by police brutality.”
Images of makeshift raincoats made from KwikSave bags and the ominous presence of the police show the difference between the can-do attitude of the protestors and the fear that was struck in the authorities and establishment. The photos show a genial day out with a proud mum and awkwardly smiling children. “I’m sure you can sense my intense embarrassment when my mother’s creativity peaked with the idea of making us wear the discount supermarket Kwik Save-carrier-bag-tabards,” says Kirsty. “I remember desperately begging her not to make us wear them.”
The weight of history, and the benefit of hindsight, add a gravitas to images that might have sat unseen in a family album. “With North Korea testing nuclear weapons earlier this year, the possibility of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump bumping heads in the war room and the development of hypersonic missile delivery systems, the safety nets that have been put in place since WWII seem to be perishing,” says Kirsty. “I feel the sense of the fear bubbling up again that these protests were a response to in 1980s.” Social history is so often reported through documentary photography taken by a professional, but here is an account of a key moment in the history of protest told through unrefined images that focus on individuals rather than drama. Kirsty’s exhibition then presents an even more tangible aspect of the day with her recreations of artefacts seen in the photos, allowing the past to occupy physical space in the gallery, rather than providing a representation on the wall.