Entertainment Festivals

Sunday 20 October 2019

History's shining beacon for future generations

The Illuminate Herstory festival lights up the feats of females past and present

TURN ON THE LIGHTS: Actress Amy de Bhrun at the Dublin launch of Illuminate Herstory. Photo: Andres Poveda
TURN ON THE LIGHTS: Actress Amy de Bhrun at the Dublin launch of Illuminate Herstory. Photo: Andres Poveda

Melanie Lynch

For millennia, humanity has been transfixed by light and its powers to reveal, heal and transcend.

The ancient Egyptians held an annual light festival to aid Isis in her quest to find her beloved Osiris, and 100 years ago, Maud Gonne, our own modern goddess, harnessed the power of light to illuminate the plight of homeless families by projecting their portraits onto buildings in Parnell Square. This year, the world glowed green on St Patrick's Day, from the Pyramids to the Eiffel Tower.

For January 2018, Ireland is calling on the citizens of the world to bring their sisters out of the shadows into the light.

Illuminate Herstory was launched in January 2017 as a grassroots light festival and quickly gathered viral momentum around Ireland, with castles, museums, theatres, libraries, offices and homes illuminating in celebration of women and girls.

The Irish Herstory movement is harnessing the alchemical power of light to spotlight gender inequality and highlight women's stories.

In contrast to the handful of historical and contemporary women taught on the school curriculum, Herstory has discovered that there are over 1,000 extraordinary women in the Irish National Dictionary of Biography.

The amnesia of women's stories is not just an Irish problem, it's a global phenomenon. The achievements and struggles of women have been lost in the shadows, resulting in global inequality and a regression of women's rights.

Reading school history books, you can see how we have arrived at this dark point.

Normalising war, genocide and colonialism will lead to Trump, Brexit and worse. By giving prominence to these destructive and dangerous narratives in our history books, we are teaching future generations that these issues are important and the best they can expect of humanity.

But what happens if you rewrite history to include Herstory? You discover that in most remarkable woman's biography there was a man who saw her as an equal. They were friends, brothers, husbands, fathers, teachers and contemporaries. It's often stated that 'Behind every great man is a great woman', but I urge you to look closer and see the cross-pollination, how men and women inspired and influenced each other to realise their individual and collective potential.

Greatness is equality. And equality is human nature. Together, by illuminating the past, we can rewrite the future. A worthy aim would be a world where beside a great man is a great woman and vice versa.

When the Christmas lights are turned off on Women's Little Christmas (Nollaig na mBan, as Gaeilge), Ireland will light up in celebration of women and we're inviting the world to join us over that weekend. Already there is activity planned in Palestine, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Malta, Holland, France, Oman, the UK and the USA.

This is a light festival for the people. The beauty of light is that everyone can get involved - you can light up a national landmark or your living room. There are light projectors in every boardroom and school. This is an opportunity to celebrate women in your family, lost heroines, ancient goddesses, and future mavericks.

For the official programme, there are four universal themes over four nights.

Illuminate Herstory launches on Friday, January 5, the day before Women's Little Christmas, with the rise of Ancient Heroines, followed the next night by Every Woman, focusing on the centenary of the suffrage movement and the plight of today's migrant women. On Sunday, January 7, the theme is World of Equals, celebrating egalitarian partnerships throughout history and today. Voices of the Future is the finale on Monday, January 8 - the first day of the new school term when the next generation will illuminate classrooms with women's stories and their visions for the future.

Herstory is calling on businesses to support local and international Illuminate Herstory initiatives. Illuminate Herstory is an opportunity for companies to thank and celebrate women by commissioning a light installation. Participating enterprises are asked to make a donation to the Herstory movement to support the Herstory Education Programme, which includes a game-changing teen magazine, summer camps, workshops and publications.

Ogilvy is the first company in Ireland to get on board, championing the Illuminate Herstory Light Festival across their global network of 450 offices in 173 cities around the world.

"Ogilvy are delighted to recognise the incredible women who have made their mark in Ireland," says JP Donnelly, the firm's chief executive.

"As part of our Project Eve initiative with our sister company Kanter Millward Brown, Ogilvy & Mather in Dublin intends to illuminate our own historic building and call on our sister companies throughout the world to do the same that week."

Melanie Lynch is the founder of the Illuminate Herstory Light Festival, which takes place on January 5-8. You can get involved at www.herstory.ie

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