SIPTU members and activists were among the hundreds who attended the Derry May Day march on Saturday (4th May). Among the groups also marching were “the Factory Girls” who campaign to see a completed public art piece erected in the city.
In January 2006 The Department of Social Development commissioned artist Louise Walsh to create a public art piece that would celebrate the shirt factory workers of Derry. Seven years later the components of the work are languishing in an engineering yard, gathering rust.
This major commission with a budget of £100,000 was awarded after a two-stage competitive selection process.
The sculpture was largely completed six years ago with collaboration from many of the women who had worked in the factories. It was to be a major presence in the Waterside and clearly visible across the River Foyle. However, before it could be installed in its site in the Waterside, the Roads Service (a unit within the Department for Regional Development) objected to its location, on the grounds that drivers might be distracted.
After much negotiation it was decided in 2009 that the location should be changed to Harbour Square behind the Guildhall. The artist re-envisaged much of the piece for this new setting. However since 2010 diverse building projects have been given priority access to the area leaving no room for the erection of the shirt factory sculpture.
The final artwork loosely takes the form of a Victorian sewing machine, which the viewer can walk through, massively rendered via a needle panel front-piece, with a wheel (measuring seven and a half meters wide) completing the other end. While a shirt element, portrayed primarily by a sculptural collar form, provides outdoor seating as an amenity.
The huge wheel and needle panel gateway are intended to evoke the massive contribution of the predominantly female workforce that effectively built the City’s industrial and cultural profile.
The factory girls said: “The last six years has seen nothing but red tape from the DSD causing delays in getting the art work finished and installed.” They are calling on the DSD to rescue our sculpture, commissioned by the DSD to celebrate the Derry/Londonderry women shirt factory workers’ skills and contribution to the identity of this city. This iconic sculpture is the missing link for every family in the city to the culture we are celebrating this year and it needs to be here in pride of place, not lying ignored in an engineering yard.”
SIPTU Organiser, Martin O’Rourke, said: “SIPTU has a proud tradition of representing textile workers in the city, and join in the call for the erection of this monument to the thousands of women workers who toiled in the local factories to put bread on their family table.”
For more details and to sign the petition visit www.factorygirls.eu