The Song of the Shirt, Saturday 20 May 2017

Pavilion presents a screening of the 1979 film The Song of the Shirt followed by conversation with director Sue Clayton and art historian Griselda Pollock.

The screening will be accompanied by a presentation of Sarah McCarthy’s The Milliner, a photo work for the film that addresses class, gender and women’s labour. The Song of the Shirt (1979) is one of the classic works of British feminist experimental and independent cinema. It addresses the history of women in the sewing trade in the nineteenth century and the eventual legislation to protect them which formed the origins of the Welfare State. Co-directed by Sue Clayton and Jonathan Curling it was produced collectively with many groups, including Women's Aid and the Feminist History Project, and initially presented at the Feminism and Cinema event at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

“The media of the period, serialized novels, magazines, newspapers, cartoons and even songs, took up the case of these workers. The “slop-house’’ workers were a favourite of both the bourgeois and radical presses. They were horrified by the picture they saw of the single woman in this casually organized and over-supplied trade. Her independence and misery disturbed the hypocritical convention of the “protection of women” in the family and in the Law. Her person, as it was waged, starved and sexually active, disturbed the womanly ideal, the passive domestic consumer, that accompanied the rise of the bourgeoisie. She presented problems for the propaganda of social reformers and conservatives alike. However, the film is not a piece of historical detective work, awarding the unknown figures their proper (and final) recognition. The presence of the seamstresses was acknowledged in certain ways: the film is concerned with the forms which that recognition took.” (Alison Beale)

The Song of the Shirt (1979)
Directed by Sue Clayton and Jonathan Curling
16mm, 135 min, black & white

Saturday 20 May 2017, 10–3pm
School of Fine Art History of Art and Cultural Studies
University of Leeds

Free entry
Suggested donation £5
Book online at

This event is part of The Problem of Perspective: Interwoven Histories series in collaboration with the University of Leeds and CentreCATH. Interwoven Histories is a two-year project addressing migration, textiles and representation.

Griselda Pollock is Director of Research and Professor of the Social & Critical Histories of Art at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on feminist, social, queer and postcolonial interventions in the histories of art, trauma and cultural memory. Forthcoming publications include Charlotte Salomon in the Theatre of Memory [Leben? oder Theater? 1940-1943] (Yale University Press), and Is Feminism a Bad Memory? (Verso).

Professor Sue Clayton is Professor of Film and Television, and Director of the new Screen School at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her most recent film as director is the award-winning documentary HAMEDULLAH: THE ROAD HOME (2012) which tells the story of a young refugee in the UK who was deported back to Afghanistan, and to whom she gave a digital camera. The film has screened at the United Nations in Geneva, and submitted to the Select Committee which seeks to change the law on deporting young people to war zones. Clayton is currently co-writing a cinema thriller NOWHERE TO HIDE on the topic of asylum and deportation.

  • The Song of the Shirt, Saturday 20 May 2017
  • The Song of the Shirt, Saturday 20 May 2017
    Sue Clayton and Jonathan Curling, The Song of The Shirt (1979) Image: courtesy BFI.