Eilean nam Ban

By Ellen Patterson

We speak to actor and activist Ellen Patterson about her all female project  Eilean Nam Ban. An exhibition sharing stories about the extraordinary lives of ordinary women through art, poetry and more…

Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about?

When I started my masters degree I decided to look back over the work I had done for my undergrad and noticed there were a lot more men’s names in the reading lists than women’s. When I actually compared them, I found that only 30% of the reading I was asked to do in four years of university was attributed to a female voice. Only 1% came from a woman of colour. I wish I could say I was surprised. So, when we were given pretty much free rein on our final pieces this year I immediately wanted to create a platform for women’s stories to be heard. I have felt inspired countless times by a piece of art, be it a song, a painting, a poem (the list goes on) so I was drawn to the idea of bringing women’s stories to life in art. The project ‘Eilean nam Ban’ has since grown arms and legs and I am now presenting an exhibition featuring an original song by a Scottish fiddler, a song by an Irish singer, a painting, a collage (made by my Grandmother who, by the way, is most definitely a Bitch), and several poems…so far! This will be shown for free at the C.A.F.E in Brixton on September 28th.

What does the name mean?

Eilean nam Ban is an island just off the coast of Iona in the west of Scotland). Iona was the site St. Colomba’s destination when he left Ireland in 563 and he set about building an abbey there (Iona still has a very beautiful abbey). According to Colomba though, this great task could not succeed whilst there were either cows or women on the island. He insisted ‘where there is a cow there is a woman and where there is a woman there is mischief.’ Thus, all the women and cows were banished from Iona and sent to a neighbouring island which earned it the name ‘Eilean nam Ban’ or ‘Women’s Island.’ In solidarity with those banished women (and cows), I hope that my exhibition can act as its own small women’s island.

Are there any particular people who have inspired you on your journey?

The biggest inspiration for this comes directly from REEK. I have followed REEK closely, working with you at any opportunity I get and your mission to let no women go forgotten has been a huge inspiration. All the work that Sara has done outside of REEK to shine a light on women’s stories has also really spurred me on.

How can people get involved?

Make your voices heard! I am still looking for stories and for artists to collaborate with. The stories can simply be the tale of a woman who has inspired you, be it your best friend, your mum, or that lady in the café at the bottom of your road whose smile always brightens your day. It can be one sentence or one thousand sentences  – if you want her story to be heard, I want to hear it. If you are an artist and want to get involved, I can send you one of these inspirational stories to use to create a work of art in whatever form you choose.

And anyone who can come to the exhibition, it would be great to have you there!

What issues do you see people face in your day to day?

This answer could be pages long; sadly I think we are very skilled at ignoring things that are staring us in the face. I will just focus on one issue for now, one that I see every day in my line of work as an actress; the constant treatment of women as inferior. I see this when a woman is told to lower her register or she won’t sound important, when she is told at 32 she can only play a mother, when she stands up for herself in an audition and is turned away. Time is not just up on the outrageous practice of accepted sexual harassment but on the perverse attitude towards and the shabby treatment of women every single day. She is a person, just as much as he is.

Tell us about a campaign/advert that made you angry.

Anything on my sister’s Instagram feed. The worst was Kim Kardashian selling those weight loss lollipops. For a brief moment I genuinely wanted one. I am a 27 year old woman who is secure in her body (most of the time) and I was lured in. How is a fourteen year old who is being bullied at school supposed to read that and not be convinced they should be shedding pounds one lolly at a time?

What message would you put on our on our sticky bitches? (gender equality stickers, free on our site

LIVE IN PEACH (go cruelty free)

What are your three favourite smells?

Just smells or scents? Okay, I’ll do both! Smells; summer rain, talcum powder, a burning log fire. Scents; Bitches, Witches, The Dark Heart of Old Havana  by 4160 Tuesdays.

Are you more of a witch or a bitch?

Definitely a Bitch. But can I still be in the coven?

Yes. Yes you can.

You can support the ‘Eilean nam Ban’ project on their fundraiser here. All charitable donations in aid of The Fawcett Society. To get involved contact: eilean.nam.ban@gmail.com