The First Supper
If you are reading this whilst looking at the painting, come closer, sit down on the plastic rug and join in the discussion!
The Last Supper is a story anyone receiving a standard education in the UK and any other Christian or nominally Christian country grew up with. Jesus knows the time is coming when he will be brought before people in power in his country. He sits his friends down to a meal and tells them how things are going to change and that they are going to have to be ready. There is a lot more to it but I don’t know how much of it I can accept any more. It is part of myself though, of course.
Now, Jesus had a lot of female friends. Where are they? Perhaps eating in another room, away from the men.
Our world is facing terrible times and an uncertain future. Women are not perfect at all but most of the worlds problems are caused by greedy and violent men.
So I’d like to institute a series of meetings of young, energetic women (I won’t qualify, nor will many of my friends. I blew my chance already). I’d love these to happen in every town in the world. In Ely they would meet in the Lady Chapel (of course). The main symbol will be our beautiful and wounded world. Looking at Africa because the “West” is not the centre of anything on a globe! These meetings will be called The First Supper. They are certainly not specifically Christian or even Theist at all. God is love, God is everywhere. God may not even be God at all.
These meetings would have to be inclusive. Do let me know who should be there, who should be seen as inspiration for a better future. More importantly, let each other know, what you want for your life.
It has to be a future of love, for yourselves, for each other and for your world.
Ten of the young women in this painting are all either models from photos generously shared by photographers, or they are my friends and family friends. The other two appear as themselves and I hope they won’t object: Rumana, a doctor and a Sewing Bee quarter-finalist, who makes lovely clothes, and Ashley Diamond, an American transwoman and prisoners” advocate.
I am scattering the names of other inspirational women all over the three panels. I think I should leave references to them, so you can read up on them yourself.
Amanda Gorman: American Poet
I chose this image because everybody knows what she looks like in a yellow coat! Here she is, reading The Miracle of Morning on YouTube. There is lots more, and doubtless more to come. She is so young.
Angela Saini: science journalist and author
Author of Superior: The Return of Race Science and Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong. I consider effective communication about science to be crucial to the survival of democracy. Both books are on the Toppings website, so worth dropping in after you have seen the exhibition!
(Pictured main panel right centre).
Ashley Diamond is a Black, transgender woman, and prisoners' rights activist in the USA.
Beth Chatto: garderner and plantswoman
Beth Chatto is an important part of the study of making gardens. She wrote books on The Dry Garden, The Damp Garden. I think her idea is to make a garden according to its place and the plants that will thrive there. I expect her ideaswill be a part of remaking the world.
Caroline Lucas:: Green Party MP
Caroline Lucas has twice been the Leader of the Green Party and is a consistent voice of reason and compassion in politics. As far as I can see it, Green is the only hope we have of saving the planet for ourselves, our children and most of other forms of life. This is her Twitter feed.
I have linked to an obituary here because it is interesting. Mernissi was an Islamic feminist and a writer. That she is also a Moroccan hero makes her special to me but also to many, many others. You could start with her memoir Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood. She taught for many years in Mohammed V University in Rabat. She combatted misogyny by direct reference to the original Islamic texts. Perhaps she was like our own Etheldreda in that respect.
Greta Thunberg: environmental activist
Obviously you know who she is. And a) she's not 13 any more, she's an adult. b) there are many, many young people like her. "Build back better, blah, blah, blah" cut right to the chase, as she had the opportunity to castigate wold leaders for doing absolutley nothing but waffle at the 2021 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. This is her Twitter feed. Miranda Whelehan needs to go here too, for her activism and for her courage in a strange "Don't Look Up" interview on Good Morning Britain.
Katherine Johnson: "human computer" at NASA
She worked at NASA for 33 years. I love this image becasue she looks ferociously intelligent and sharp. I'd love to think that she did actually slimb a ladder to scribble complex strings of equations on a chalkboard. She analysed flight paths of spacecraft and was crucial in getting people into space and onto the Moon. "I didn't do anything alone but tried to get to the root of the question and succeeded there." This late interview is on her Britannica page.
Maryam Mirzakhani: Iranian Mathematician
Personally I am in awe of anyone who chooses mathematics. This woman was a professor of Mathematics at Stanford University. If you read the obituary (yes, she is no longer with us), she pursued mathematics for sheer joy. The Youtube video referenced in the article is Maryam describing why she loves surfaces.
Megan McCubbin is a great and enthusiastic young zoologist and TV presenter in the UK. She is a passionate environmentalist and I find her inspiring.
Mhairi Black: Scottish National Party MP
I find her speeches in the House of Commons mesmerising. She's truthful, calls out the Government, and is quite often furious. Do follow her Twitter.
Nicola Kagoro "Chef Cola"
Chef Cola is also known as African Vegan on a Budget. I first heard of her working as a chef in an anti-poaching organisation with only female rangers. This is in Zimbabwe but she is known much further afield than that.
Paula Rego: Portuguese artist
Paula Rego combines folk tales, real outrage about national and sexual politics, and great colour sense. This painting, The Policeman's Daughter, is classic Rego. The girl is very businesslike, getting her arm right to the bottom of the boot. It can be assumed the policeman in question is some kind of fascist, given the history. I visit an exhibition of hers whenever I can. The link is to a BBC article about a recent retrospective in the Tate Britain.
Rachel Carson: Environmental campaigner
Rachel Carson started as a marine biologist. She is best known for her 1962 book Silent Spring which was about the pesticide DDT, whih is one of the central texts of the environmental movement. She questioned the general assumption that human domination over all life on this planet was the right approach. We should listen, of course. The fact that we haven't is why I wish we could convene meetings such as this First Supper in real life.
Rosabell Kagumire: Editor of African Feminism
Kagumire is a strong voice for pan-African feminism. For more information I think it's best to go straight to the African Feminism website. Linked here.
Rosalind Franklin: English chemist and X-ray crystallographer
Franklin discovered the double helix structure of DNA. She was robbed of her part in the Nobel prize, as is now generally accepted. It's worth reading the whole of the Wikipedia article.
Rumana: The Little Pomegranate
(Pictured right panel centre).
Rumana Lasker Dawood makes beautiful, cheerful clothes and is an inspiration to sewers who want to enjoy fabrics without bothering too much about fitting problems! She was a quarter finalist on The Great British Sewing Bee and is also a doctor.
Shamsia Hassani : Afghan Graffiti Artist
Shamsia Hassani is the first woman graffiti artist in Afghanistan. I find her work inspiring and, since the Taliban returned, increasingly heartbreaking. The image here links to her website but she also has an Instagram feed, @shamsiahassani
Zahra Sultana: Labour MP for Coventry South
Of course there are lots of friendly pictures of Zahra Sultana on the Internet. But I chose this one because she does consistently hold the Government to account. She is also an excellent constituency MP. I have linked to her Twitter feed because it's great!
Zainab Husseini: Marathon runner
The first Afghan woman to run the Afghan marathon in 2015. Her first sport was Tae Kwon-Do, which is very special to me. In 2021 she was Sports Coordinator for Skateistan, also in Afghanistan. She is a sportswoman and a feminist. Since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, she has been in the United States.