FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION:
"Until several years ago I was probably the only British artist who had tackled the subject of female genital mutilation (FGM) and I continue to develop the theme in both sculpture and painting (Paula Rego has now produced some wonderful prints on the subject). My first contact with the practice of FGM was some years ago when I spent 6 months living on an oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt. I was staying with a friend and while I was there she arranged to have her 7 year old daughter mutilated; it was a traumatic experience for both her and her daughter, made worse by the extreme pain and infection that followed. The horror of it has stayed with me too. However my friend knew that if her daughter had not been 'cut' that finding a husband, in later life, would not be possible; mutilated girls are considered to make more faithful wives. Wages for women are very much lower than those of men in Egypt, impossible to live on, and it is seldom an option to be a career woman and not marry, as it is in Britain and the USA.
I have come across FGM since, many times, through working in the social justice field in Britain. Perhaps what shocks me most is how little knowledge there seems to be in the UK population about the practice and how it can carry on in a society where no excuses can be made for it. In the UK and the USA it is a serious criminal offence (to take part in organising it, at home or abroad) and there is not the same level of social pressures that my Egyptian friend had to take into account. In the UK it is estimated that 30,000 little girls are at risk each and every year, the USA has less reliable figures but it is estimated that at least 228,000 are at risk. The UK FGM Act 2002 provides for long prison sentences for people who arrange for FGM to take place however there have been very few UK prosecutions since the new Act came into use in 2003 or under older legislation dating back 28 years: This is an indictment of our society.
Both in the UK and USA there is a lack of knowledge and willingness to tackle FGM amongst it's female child population: Where are our principles about defending little girls from serious, violent, physical assault? Why do women have to grow up maimed, infected and with persistent pain in our 'free and emancipated' countries? The laws are in place to protect them but are remaining unused.
FGM is not linked to any one religion, there are communities within at least 3 of the major world religions who practice it ie Christianity, Islam and Judaism (in Ethiopia) also voodoo. Nor is it confined to any race or continent; it is used worldwide and was used by European and UK familes until the 1950s as a medical cure for masturbation, waywardness and lesbianism in girls and women. Sexual gratification, inevitably, is very difficult for anyone who has undergone the operation so the mutilated girl grows into a woman denied one of the key pleasures and motivations of life. The abuse also tells her that she is not important and that that she must submit to her patriarchal society.
For me to respond, to this crime against human rights, through fine art, was something that I felt I had to do. I strongly believe that when we look at visual art work we respond emotionally to it and are therefore stimulated to think more deeply about the subject. I hope that people will be moved by my work and that professionals, such as social workers, doctors, nurses and teachers will be motivated to act and not be put off by misplaced cultural sensitivities surrounding the subject."