LOCATION: The Great Petition Sculpture, Burston Reserve, East Melbourne
This 20-metre furled steel sculpture, by artists Susan Hewitt and Penelope Lee, commemorates the ‘Monster Petition’, a collection of close to 30,000 signatures collected from women in 1891 in support of equal voting rights for women. Installed in 2008, the artwork marked 100 years of women’s suffrage in Victoria.
Kochava Lilit, in zir work, “The Anniversary” celebrates this achievement but with caution and reckoning, considering Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day of atonement as a metaphor for women’s suffrage in our own country. As rights have been given to some, others have also been left behind. Feminism is no perfect, achievable outcome, it’s a reckoning and a righting of wrongs, even when that involves acknowledging culpability is messy and hard to apportion. Sometimes we are both right and wrong, sometimes we are grateful and sorry, sometimes we are asking forgiveness even as we celebrate.
Last night was the anniversary, a big round rolling number
We met on the path where the white steel waves dive underground and burst forth
There were too many of us, spilling over, falling off the streets
Everyone wanted to be here tonight
We danced like it was still a revolution
I saw them bring out the scroll, unroll it slowly, pass it from hand to hand
Every person stepping up to hold it as it grew, gently, carefully, by the edges
-don’t let it touch the ground!-
30, 000 names and calico stretched down the street
Someone stepped forward to read the story
A triumphant tale tinged with tragedy
30, 000 women signed in 6 weeks
They did it using tools we’ve long forgotten
I can’t imagine how
It didn’t work for decades
And they left some of us behind
I can’t imagine how
Questions swirled around us
What would I have done?
How did they live?
Who would I have been?
Could their imaginations stretch to reach us here?
When we stand before this monster petition, do we know before whom we stand?
We stayed from evening til morning
Talked til someone said the sun has risen
Wore white like the old suffragetts, like the day of atonement, like the happiest day of the year
Watched our candles burn out
We said remember
We said we’re sorry
We said thank you
We said you are forgiven
We said celebrate