His­tory’s shin­ing bea­con for future gen­er­a­tions

The Il­lu­mi­nate Her­story fes­ti­val lights up the feats of fe­males past and present, writes Me­lanie Lynch

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Analysis -

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

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

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