100 years of female spirit, passion and inspiration

Judy Logue, left, with artist Mary Kennedy. (0503PG28)
Judy Logue, left, with artist Mary Kennedy. (0503PG28)

A stunningly ornate, hand-bound anthology, ‘The Book of Belles’, will be launched today at 12pm at Derry Women’s Centre in celebration of International Women’s Day. Artist and contributor Mary Kennedy will help launch the book and will also give a discussion as part of IWD events next Tuesday, March 15, at Eden Place Arts Centre, Pilot’s Row, at 7pm.

Mary spoke to the ‘Journal’ ahead of these events about the beautiful Book of Belles and her forthcoming discussion on Motherhood, Feminism and Art.

Mary, originally from Oklahoma USA, fell in love with Derry after a brief spell here in 2003.

“I came to Derry to do a summer course at University of Ulster and I fell in love with this place,” she explained. “I kept coming back and then I married a Derry man, so I’ve been happily here ever since.”

As well as designing the inside front cover art for the Book of Belles, Mary also contributed a piece herself.

“I submitted a piece about a woman whom I admire, Wilma Mankiller. She is inspirational because she was the first modern day female Cherokee Principal Chief of a Native American tribe and she encountered a lot of adversities,” Mary said.

Mary says that the Book of Belles will be an “inspirational” book for both contributors and onlookers.

“I think that the experience of the Book of Belles will be very enriching to see - it will be fascinating to see how women’s admiration for other women is portrayed. It’s a very ambitious project, and the diversity of people involved is inspiring in itself. To be honest, I think for every women represented in the Book of Belles, there are 100 more who are not represented. It could be a never-ending project and run to many volumes if someone wanted to keep doing it!”

Mary believes that International Women’s Day remains a very important date in the calendar.

“I think that International Woman’s Day is very, very important to us today. I think that we should always be mindful of the advancements that have been made for women over the last 100 years and also how much further we need to go.”

Mary’s discussion on March 15 will see her discuss the wide-ranging topic of motherhood, feminism and art.

“I would say that three main influences in my life has been feminism, motherhood and art. Finding the balance between the three has always been a delicate balancing act. I remember some years ago I was encouraged to put art aside and “get a real job” and I’m so glad that I didn’t and that I persevered,” Mary said.

“Within the discussion on March 15, I’ll be looking at little bit about the history of feminism itself. Another thing I’m going to talk about will be the economics of being artistic, with so many trying to make a living out of their art. A lot of women are faced with the choice of whether they can make enough money in their chosen field and still support their families.”

“The value of whatever role a woman chooses to play in life is so important,” Mary adds. “There’s a great deal of value in someone choosing to be a mom and not go out to be a world leader. It’s just as valuable, and those roles are never to be underestimated.”

Eden Place Arts Centre’s Judi Logue is excited about the Book of Belles and encourages local folk to come and see it.

“I really think the book could be something that is enriching for people to see. It would be nice to have it somewhere really prominent like in the Guildhall, for all to see, but in the meantime it will be travelling around Derry.”

Judi hopes to secure funding to enable a print run of the ornate celebrative book.

“It’s illustrated so beautifully and with such diverse pieces, we would really love it to reach a wider audience. The women portrayed in the book wouldn’t place as much value in themselves as those who chose to include them in this book - so it could be quite emotional for women to come and see how they are perceived,” she said.

Eden Place Arts Centre is funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland under their Lottery Scheme.