The Whisper Minnesota project was a three year project created by Suzanne Lacy aimed at giving voice and visibility to older women.
The culmination was an hour long performance on Mothers day in 1987 where 430 women over 60 gathered together seated around tables that were in a quilted pattern.3000 people attended the performance where they listened to an accompanying soundtrack that mixed the voices of 75 women talking about aging (by composer Susan Stone). Speakers mixed personal observations and reminiscences with social analysis about the unutilized potential of the elderly.
The project’s aim was to address the invisibility of older women, through a complex form of community action combined with activist art, a balance between “socially purposeful and aesthetically purposeful activity” on a large scale. Scale was an important aspect of the event.
In this project Lacey worked with fellow artists and volunteers using workshops , organizing art exhibitions and lectures, and a model leadership seminar for older women, enabling conversations to explore the question of what it is like to be an older woman in todays society .
Some of the questions that were discussed regarding questions of identity were :
How do we think of older women?
How do they think of themselves?
Is getting older what you expected?
What do you think of death ?
They explored what kind of questions we want to be asked as older women.
One woman said that she would like her grandchildren to ask her questions about values and not facts, such as what was it like to live under Roosevelts presidency, rather than what the transport was like?
Another said she would like to be asked what was great about that time or that event? Tthey wanted to encourage those close to them to ask better questions so they can talk and share.
One lady said
“I would like to be asked what I think of the arms race, that’s what older women should be asked. I want them to ask what is my contribution to society… Ask me how fortunate it is to grow old and develop wisdom… How is it to live a fulfilled single life …some younger women may want to know answers to these questions… People don’t ask you stuff…”
They explored what they loved, their hopes for themselves , for the future..One woman had hopes for a new career in writing after being a mother, a householder, a business woman. They explored the legacies they may leave behind, their grandchildren , the way they touched peoples lives, the joy they may have brought.
The exhibit was in the form of video, sound piece and the physical quilt.The number of women and the way they were filmed gave the group a certain power. The women in the video were all dressed in black, we saw womens faces saying their names and where they came from, we saw womens hands clasped together, beautiful hands. I found this to be both a tender piece and one that opened up many questions and I think was successfully politically in addressing perceptions about older women.
I think its worth a visit not only to see this but also the new Tanks space at the Tate Modern but unfortunately it ends on 28th October.