To mark the first day of the global movement 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we hear from artist and curator Hayley Whelan on an ongoing project that documents experiences of women walking alone. Through her ritualistic practice of walking, Hayley knits together people and places, gathering lived experiences as she walks through Dundee.
Women have never been able to wander around the city with the same freedom as men and it is a well-known reality that women are much more likely to suffer from the structure of the city than their male counterparts.
On the 3rd of March, a woman went missing and was later found to have been murdered by a police officer whilst walking home from a friend’s house in London. The discourse and protests that followed have been important and are urgent, my current work directly responds to this.
It has affected and related to so many women across the country. To be honest, I can’t stop thinking about it.
Walking has been a part of my practice for much longer than I’d even started thinking about it as practice. Whilst studying at DJCAD, walking in the city would be used as a research method for my work. Having moved from a small town to Dundee, I was really inspired by my new surroundings and would spend hours walking and taking photos.
Since then, I have developed a repetitive, ritual-like walking practice. These walks are the basis for research and interests in architecture, photography, cities, public spaces, non-places, the spaces in between and the interactions that take place within them all. This has resulted in some beautiful collaborative works with other artists, makers and friends, leading to the curation of several guided tours and walks.
Walking in Dundee has helped me come to an understanding of my own relationship with place whilst developing a level of confidence walking in public. Walking has also really helped me through some tough times although it has not come without fear of violence, harassment and a long-existing cautious instinct, continuously updating the mental map of safety and danger that every woman carries in her mind
Saying all of this, I rarely go out for a walk alone at night. I’m not alone here, according to the Office for National Statistics, around 49% of women reported feeling unsafe walking alone after dark. Particularly now considering how the long dark nights act as an isolating prison for many women.
Fascinated by the idea of discussing walking with others and using these conversations to explore how we feel in public, I began a collection of walks with women. Travelling together to create a safe space for us to engage openly and freely with this long tolerated social issue. My work with walking feels as though it’s at a turning point, moving from quite an insular practice to exploring a much wider social issue.
Documented with photography and short pieces of writing, these walks are being used to explore our relationship with place, understand how we navigate through urban environments. Reflecting on how we feel when walking our own cities, specifically in Scotland today. It is my hope the work will highlight the issues we collectively face.
Through this work, I have found myself getting back in touch with many women in my life that I may have lost touch with in recent years. Although my project is looking at a much broader social issue, I will also be using it to strengthen some of the connections with the women in my own life. Whilst regarding each individual as an equal throughout the process, each walk is treated as an exchange of knowledge, experiences and energy, with each person treated as a collaborator in the production of the project. I understand that gender, race, queerness, age, and ability are all things to be considered so have made a conscious decision to interact with different women of various ages living in different places in Scotland.
The research that is gathered will be documented and stored in a container or vessel and I will carry this with me on each following walk I take. In a way, this means we will all be walking together. The documentation will form a growing artwork; a library of our shared experiences.
We all move through space in different ways; a girl exploring a new city, a woman finding her way home from work, a person who cannot leave their home. To explore these instances of how women feel walking alone is to fight the patriarchal dominance of the city and hear voices that have been long silenced. We must keep moving to celebrate the presence of women and continue to reclaim the streets and reclaim the night!
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