Installation in the gardens of St John’s Church, Waterloo, London
Dimensions: 227cm (W) x 343cm (H)
Overall installation: 500cm (W flexible) x 400cm (H)
Medium: vintage bed linen with embroidery, washing line, pegs, mixed media
Photography: Chris Lee
Je Dois Dormir
A woman was murdered on 14th December 1914. She was thirty-five and the mother of three young children when she died. Despite a sheltered life she seems to have suffered from insomnia and anxiety: ninety-six notes in her handwriting were recently discovered in a box with the words “I must sleep, night of..” or “I have the right to sleep, night of..” with a date between November 1913 and August 1914. This woman became a taboo subject for her family and was spoken of as carrying blame for her own death.
Je Dois Dormir brings her back into visibility. Her portrait is a little over life-size and based on a mounted photographic print from around 1910. It is painted on a bed sheet that used to be her sister’s, a reminder of her nightly anguish. The notes were written on scrap paper in pencil and ink, which is reflected in the materials used to copy them surrounding and besieging her.
Her anguish is likely to have been caused by an undiagnosed or yet unknown mental illness, postnatal depression or the dread from the daily events leading to WW1. There is no justification for the harsh judgment that has been imposed on her memory. Shaming and denial generate destruction. Empathy and compassion bring hope.