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From Maya Angelou to Patti Smith, and from Begum Rokeya to Michelle Obama, the dazzling mix of image and song in Ultraviolet has become one of the most talked-about moments of the show. Cathleen Falsani reports on the trailblazing women of herstory and why #povertyissexist.

'Whenever you see the feminine spirit move from the circumference to the centre, there’s usually a jump in consciousness.’
(Bono)

On The Joshua Tree 2017 Tour, ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ closes out the album’s eleven tracks and opens the door to what is commonly referred to as ‘the encore’ but is so much more than that.

Think of it instead as the third act—a set containing some of the most powerful storytelling, in music and images, of the night.

“Bono had the idea to give ‘Act III’ of the show a loose theme of being an ode to women,” said Willie Williams, U2’s longtime creative director. “He’d observed that at various times in human history, a more feminine spirit has taken the lead; the Renaissance and ‘60s counterculture being examples.

“The thought was that we are currently living in a time when we could really use a more feminine spirit in our leadership and a way to illustrate this might be to celebrate some of the great female pioneers of the past,” Williams said.

Enter Alice Wroe and Herstory, a participatory project that combines feminist art, education, and activism to engage people of all genders in celebrating women’s history—particularly women who have been left out (systematically or otherwise) of the traditional, historical canon.

“I’ve been researching these women for about four years and I’ve got hundreds of them. I have a little weep in the morning when I read about them and they literally feed me and make me stronger,” said Wroe, 26, by phone from Russia where she was running a series of Herstory workshops for street children earlier this month. “When I got the opportunity to show these women - my personal heroes - to the number of people who go to a U2 show each night, it blew my mind. I realized together we could genuinely rupture the canon that is so damaging to all of us, that just swells with white, CIS-gender men. And if we can promote these women’s lives on the stage and allow them to be the role models that they fully deserve to be, we really could change hugely how we relate to ourselves as women, how we relate to each other.”
 

Wroe and Williams’ collaboration gave birth to the Herstory multimedia installation that accompanies ‘Ultraviolet’. The “luminous icons” themselves, aka the 50-by-40-foot motion graphics that showcase the women’s photographs and names, were created by Susana Yamamoto, a UK-based Brazilian artist and motion designer.

“Alice came up with two strategies; one was to divide the women loosely into categories (on the understanding that many women would span several) and within each category to present a ‘legacy map’ of how one woman’s work helped create a stepping stone for women who followed,” Williams said. “Generally we looked for women who could represent a time, a stance, or an attitude broader than just her own work. Alice was also very keen to include women who wouldn’t have agreed with each other on everything but were different voices in the conversation.”

In all, more than 60 women have been featured in the Ultraviolet/luminous icons piece, ranging from well-known cultural icons such as Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Patti Smith, Angela Davis, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Lena Dunham, and Maya Angelou, to lesser-known women whose contributions to politics and protest movements; LGBTQ, women’s and Civil Rights; literature, music, business, and even sport has paved the paths that led directly or indirectly to their successes and triumphs.

So among the luminous icons there is Ellen DeGeneres, but also Moms Mabley—an openly-gay, black performer who was one of the first stand-up comedians to incorporate political commentary into her act—and Marsha P. Johnson, an African-American transwoman queer liberation pioneer, veteran of the Stonewall riots, and early AIDS activist.

Wroe calls the threads that connect the Herstory women ‘legacy paths.’

“I would find one woman who is so, so famous now that everyone would know who she is and what she stands for—a good example would be Malala—and then I’d work backwards.” That search led her to Begum Rokeya, the social activist who started the first school for Muslim girls in 1909 in Calcutta, India and dedicated her life to educating young women. “I cannot imagine a world in which Malala could stand up to the Taliban and know that she has a right to education as a young Muslim woman without Begum Rokeya having fought her whole life to empower young girls toward education.”

Researching Rokeya led Wroe to The Sari Squad, a group of South-Asian women in 1980s Great Britain who would dress in their traditional garb and go to multicultural events as a means of combatting racism. And when they encountered racist protesters, who were sometimes violent, they would defend themselves using martial arts. “And then they would burst into song afterwards,” Wroe said. “I love the idea of these incredible women in Britain wearing colorful saris defending themselves and others against racism.”

From the Sari Squad, Wroe’s research took her to Edith Margaret Garrud, one of the first female martial arts instructors in the world who, in 1913, trained the official 30-member all-women defense unit of the UK Suffragettes, known as ‘The Bodyguard’ or the ‘Jujitsusuffragettes.’

“I love these parallels between these women all over the world doing these different things but kind of gradually fitting in together to create a world that was better for themselves and for future generations of people,” Wroe said.

The band’s full-throated celebration of women, feminism, and women’s history in Act III is tapping into a shift, a “feminist bubbling” that’s happening globally, she said. “It’s all coming to a head at this moment, we have to ride it, and run with it…If we don’t look back and dig around for these women who were there and celebrate them in a serious way, how can we look forward and expect people like me and people like you to become the women we can be and change the world the way we can? Because if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. That is the maxim that pushes me forward and makes me believe that practicing women’s history is a political act.”

The Herstory/Ultraviolet piece also complements the ‘Miss Sarajevo/Miss Syria’ film shot by the French artist JR at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, featuring the 15-year-old Syrian girl Omaima, as well as the work of ONE, whose “Poverty Is Sexist” campaign is also highlighted during the Third Act.

“Poverty is Sexist was born out of the idea that we simply cannot end extreme poverty until we break down the barriers holding girls and women back,” said Roxy Philson, ONE’s chief marketing officer, who with ONE’s creative director Meagan Bond, came up with the campaign’s name and concept. “The struggle of a young girl in Africa fighting to go to school or to decide who she marries might seem a million miles away— but as the Herstory piece powerfully and poignantly drives home, that this is a shared fight and a shared struggle.

“The images of these trailblazing women who have, quite literally, bent history to their will shows us that change is possible, and inspires me to keep up the fight for women everywhere,” Philson said. “None of us are equal until all of us are equal.”

The ONE Campaign has been collaborating directly with the Herstory piece by running online polls through Facebook where ONE members can nominate a local “she-ro” to be included among the luminous icons at the area show.

“The idea came directly from Bono, said Saira O’Mallie, tour relations manager and former interim UK director for ONE. “Going from city to city, we have all these icons, but he wanted to know who it is that really resonates with the people locally, the people who are actually making change.”

Sometimes the local “she-roes” (or femmes du jour as Williams calls them) are historical figures, such as Ida B. Wells, the African-American journalist and co-founder of the NAACP who was featured in Chicago, or the late Texas Governor Ann Richards, who appeared among the luminaries at the Houston show.

Other times, they’re contemporary women, such as Kehkashan Basu, a 16-year-old environmental activist from Dubai who was celebrated among the luminous icons at the Toronto show. Or María José Fletcher, co-founder of Vida Legal Assistance, who works with immigrant survivors of violent crimes (particularly sexual violence and human trafficking) in South Florida, who was included in the Tampa show.

As The Joshua Tree tour continues into Europe and South America, Herstory’s luminous icons will go with it and continue to evolve, said Williams who added: “Perhaps at the end of the tour we should do a mega-mix of them all!”

COMMENTS

17
foelske
11 November, 2017
HerStory in Indie and HiStory in the mak
30 years Anniversary Tour of the Joshua Tree Album. I had a chance seeing U2 twice this summer (2017). 1st leg in Cleveland and 3rd leg in Indianapolis. Fantastic shows! Both times directly in front of the stage. Cool this gigantic 8k screen, so clear, unbelievable.
MoJoanne
16 September, 2017
Probably overlooking plenty of pioneerin
I suggest including women Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson. She was the first black woman to graduate from Harvard, a political activist, and helped form the National Right to Life Committe. You could also include Florence Fisher who started the Adoptees Liberation Movement Association to promote the rights of adoptees to search for their original identity and medical history. The list goes on.
ThomasHe
03 August, 2017
Countenances in the Crowd.
With her mother, who brings her up. Me, I'm just "the treasury".
xabimichael
31 July, 2017
Amsterdam, 29-07-17 the band is still ru
well, just wow..... this was nr 16 in 34 years or so and they are on top of their game, goose bumps from the moment Larry arrived and gave the first stroke on his drums... bring it on U2, great messages in the show, Syria made us aware I guess about the fact that we have nothing to complain
renaterr
30 July, 2017
Love
So much interaction
JohntheBaptist
30 July, 2017
Impressive
I saw Ultraviolet at 29 July in Amsterdam. Before I also watched some YouTube clips about the song and read this great article. It was very impressive how U2 honoured the women with this song and showed pictures from women who influenced the world. As a man I want to join U2 in honouring all women! I still can be angry that there still are no equal rights for women! Why are still man receive more salary then women?? We know for ages that also women are the main builders of the society! Also in our Dutch concert Dutch women where honoured and pictured, like Mabel, widow of prince Friso. She was also at the venue. And major Bosshard from the Salvation Army. Men: give the women near you equal rights and respect and honour them!
taraleigh23
28 July, 2017
Tara Stephenson
Saw the show in Rome. 1st time and was truly moved by the message across the board. If there is any need for follow up with these women (the new ones being added)...and sharing their story, it would be my delight to photograph a story to really share their stories through images! my site www.taraleighproject.com Let me know if there is a need! To all the creatives...thanks again for giving a platform for these stories!
jaimesn
22 July, 2017
I like and ... I'm not sure about it. Bu
I've been thinking a lot, these days, about how important it is for women to tell their stories in whatever ways they can, and about how hard it is for us to do so. I love that you wanted to do this -- to celebrate women's stories. I also feel like there's something about it that makes me uncomfortable, because... it's not women telling their stories, and I feel like "herstory" being blessed by dudes, no matter how dear and well-intentioned, is somehow... off the mark. I don't mean to criticise, and I love the choices of women -- even the controversial ones! -- but... yeah. I feel like it's really finding ways to give women a stronger voice that is needed, not commendation. Anyway, it's amazing that The Joshua Tree is 30 years old. By then, U2 had already been my favourite band for years. I remember when it came out, I loved it -- but Rattle and Hum made me feel like the wheels on the bus were ratttling a bit -- it was an intense time. I love hearing these songs again from the same hearts after thirty years -- there's something so moving about that. I will always love you all so much. It's like you're my brothers and I've known you all my life. Thank you for everything you've done. It's been so important to me, and it's had a deep and lasting influence on my whole life.
audrey_pavia
21 July, 2017
Thank you
Was moved to tears by the tribute to women at the Rose Bowl show in LA, so spent the next weekend making a sojourn to U2's Joshua tree. It fell in 2002, but remains a shrine to love, peace, music and U2.
ALP
19 July, 2017
Good Idea, but ....
The 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree did not disappoint but I must confess there was something a bit melancholic about the whole evening. It started when I walked into MetLife Stadium and looked across the parking lot at Brendan Byrne Arena and wondered where the 30 years between the two Tree tours went. As it happened during countless moments throughout my life, once the music started I somehow felt better. "Ultraviolet" is one of the great songs on Achtung Baby and while I liked the idea of celebrating the great women of history, some of the inclusions, and omissions, from the video were perplexing. Lena Dunham? Really? Respectfully I would say that placing her alongside the truly great diminished the whole idea. Perhaps I missed it, but I did not notice Mother Teresa in the video? Mother Teresa is one of the authentically great people in history and maybe it was just as well that she did not appear alongside the likes of Lena Dunham and Angela Davis. Ordinarily I buy in to just about everything (musically and artistically in general) U2 does, however I think this idea could have been thought through a little bit more clearly.
ciaralawrenceev
13 July, 2017
Her-Story feature at Twickenham
I was feayured in the Her-Story feature in part 3 @ the U2 concert on Saturday night 8th July!
GIbby68
06 July, 2017
Need for balance
I certainly understand the segment; however, much of the power this song had on the Innocence tour has been lost. It would be great if the women presented had more political balance. Perhaps showing Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Paterson, and Ayn Rand. Why no photo of Aung San Suu Kyi?
maryteri
05 July, 2017
LOVE this "Act III" don't lose it!
1) as much U2 music as I've bought over the years, I would pay at least $50 for the "Poverty is Sexist" t-shirt. I'd walk around in that just to piss off people I know, far more often than I'd walk around in a Joshua Tree anniversary shirt...we are three years to the 100th anniversary of the ratification of American women's right to vote. Tell the ONE campaign to SELL the t-shirt! Where can I buy it? 2) DO NOT LOSE the Ultraviolet segment -- I solidified my devotion to U2 in the mid-80s when I was a US student living overseas in Greece. The only connection I had to western media at the time was the U2 performance as part of Live Aid in Wembley that my host family had on video/VHS. When the shop keeper in the old town picked me out as an American and said to me, a 16 year old girl, in 1985, "I don't like your President Ronald Reagan"....I was like, yeah, me neither. It wasn't U2 that helped me hone my beliefs, but I felt this feeling as a fan, that you had my back when I stood up for injustices. Don't ever lose that Ultraviolet segment of the show - I've seen it three times now, and it's my jam!
nathalie_levasseur
03 July, 2017
Nathalie Levasseur
Merci..Merci..un show exceptionnel, j'ai adoré et mon conjoint aussi. Quelle soirée innoubliable...j"y retournerais encore..j'écoute encore ..a tous les jours votre musique
edu1970
01 July, 2017
Women
In Brasil you should put Zilda Arms and Sister Dulce, as they were a great brazilian women
jenskar
01 July, 2017
Wangari Maathai
Thank you for remembering the amazing and courageous Wangari Maathai
jjtrolan
29 June, 2017
classy
Great song, tremendous heart, thanks for DC and Bos
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