Curated by Sarah Lowndes for Kunsthalle Cromer, Cromer Seafront, 2018.
Sarah Lowndes established Kunsthalle Cromer in 2017, to enhance the cultural provision available within the seaside town of Cromer and the wider area of Norfolk through the promotion of visual art, music, literature, cinema, performance and interdisciplinary art forms. Kunsthalle Cromer works together with relevant local community organisations, developing positive, supportive and sustainable relationships and offering accessible, free and exciting cultural activity which brings people from diverse backgrounds together to enjoy meaningful shared experiences.
The second Kunsthalle Cromer public art project was Esplanade: A Procession for Women, a celebratory group promenade of 100 local girls and women, each carrying a red parasol along Cromer Seafront from the Zig Zag, along the Esplanade, and around the Pier, before ascending to disperse at Jetty Cliff outside the Hotel de Paris. The procession gestured towards Cromer’s historic beach culture and drew attention to stunning aspects of the built environment on the seafront, highlighting noted architectural features such as the Zig Zag, Esplanade, Pier, Jetty Cliff and Hotel de Paris. The 100 red parasols used in the promenade symbolised the 100 years since some British women received the vote in 1918 and thus functioned as a symbol of celebration, pride and unity on International Women’s Day, while the physical act of promenading also connects meaningfully with the 2018 International Women’s Day theme, Press for Progress.Esplanade was a celebratory performative communal event, which linked together ideas of performativity, empowerment, claiming public space and feminism.
Lowndes explained, “I got the idea for this project after reading about an extended visit to Cromer by Empress Elisabeth of Austria in 1887. Elisabeth had many other titles including Queen of Bohemia and Grand Princess of Transylvania, and was a non-conformist who didn’t take well to court life; preferring instead to absent herself to go riding and hunting and to travel widely. She was revered as the most beautiful woman in Europe but after she was thirty-five she would not allow anyone to paint her or to photograph her. Whenever she was outdoors she protected herself from prying eyes and photographers with a white parasol. When Elisabeth visited Cromer, she was 50 years old, and deeply concerned for her safety due to the growing anarchist movement in Europe – perhaps she came to Cromer seeking some peace. She brought her horses and even her cows and every morning a cow would be brought onto the Promenade beneath her window in the Lower Tuckers Hotel where it was milked and the uncontaminated milk taken directly up to her suite. She spent many long hours on the beach, reading and staring out to sea. (Her caution for her life was justified as 11 years after her trip to Cromer, she was stabbed through the heart with a sharpened needle file by an anarchist and died, aged 61.) I found the idea of the Empress with the white parasol on the promenade at Cromer rather haunting – but wanted to find a way to revisit that history in a way that was celebratory. The parasol represents many things: shelter, modesty, privacy, shade. But it also can be a prop that draws attention to the lady carrying the parasol, and has a stylish, fun aspect that is more to do with display than concealment. This is especially the case when the parasol is red, a colour that signifies revolution.