New exhibition tells story of female NI punk scene

Punk Maureen Lawrence, aged 18
Punk Maureen Lawrence, aged 18

A new exhibition at the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast will focus on women’s experience of the punk movement of the 1970s when bands like Stiff Little Fingers sang about an Alternative Ulster and leather jacket-clad teens bonded in appreciation of a newly defiant musical aesthetic that was all about attitude and rebellion.

The Outcasts sang about Teenage Kicks and a nascent punk scene centred around the city’s Harp Bar, with young people from both sides of the sectarian divide finding common ground in appreciation of the new punk movement; but the female experience of Ulster’s punk heyday has rarely been explored.

The idea for the new exhibit was in part inspired by Slits guitarist Viv Albertine’s autobiography and an upcoming film documentary on Poly Styrene (Marianne Joan Elliott-Said) from punk rock band X-Ray Spex. Both female punks were trailblazers in a largely male dominated genre and, as part of the Women’s Work Festival, Oh Yeah decided to ask local women to share their stories, photographs and other memorabilia of the punk era as a way of redressing the gender imbalance.

The centre’s chief executive Charlotte Dryden said the exhibition had gathered some fantastic material documenting the female experiences of punk music and culture.

“We’ve been building an archive of material that tells the story of Belfast punk and we decided to focus on the women who were involved in the scene. We put the call out and quite a few women came to share their experiences. We heard from a female drummer who got on stage with The Stranglers and many had stories of attending punk concerts or being involved with creating punk fashion. One woman came in with a massive scrapbook of all her punk experiences and we’ve collected a collage of pictures of punk memories and gigs.

“It’s true that punk was very male dominated but there were some trailblazers like Viv Albertine and Siouxsie Sioux and Patti Smith. It’s been very interesting to hear about how punk inspired local women.”

Fem-anarchy in NI – addition of the female punk story to the NI Music Exhibition at Oh Yeah runs until June 10. Visit www.ohyeahbelfast.com/2018/womens-work-2018/.