Radical Objects: A Photo of Hiro Sumpter

Greenham and the Politics of Race and Ethnicity: A Photo of Hiro Sumpter by Ulrike Wöhr

Hiro(Originalfoto)

The woman depicted in this photo is Hiroko Sumpter (née Ishii), whom her friends called Hiro. She was born in Japan but was living in England at the time this picture was taken – presumably in 1982 or ’83. The barbed wire fence rising behind her is not just any fence but one that came to symbolise the insanity of the nuclear arms race during the Cold War and, perhaps even more, people’s resistance against this insanity; the fence enclosed the Royal Air Force Greenham Common airbase, located in Berkshire, about 80 km west of London. Following NATO’s 1979 decision to add 572 new U.S. missiles to its nuclear arsenal in Europe, Greenham Common became Britain’s foremost site for the deployment of these weapons. A women-led protest march against this decision ended with four women chaining themselves to the fence of the airbase, in September 1981, and evolved into what became known around Europe and beyond as the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. More background on the politics of the Greenham encampments can be found in studies by Sasha Roseneil, Jill Liddington and Anna Feigenbaum.

Hiro, who had been active for some time in feminist and anti-nuclear power circles in London, started living at the camp in the summer of 1982. At the time, she was about 41 years old and either just divorced or in the process of getting divorced from her English husband. She sometimes took her young son to stay with her at the camp, much to the dismay of her in-laws. The photo above was published in a pamphlet entitled The Greenham Factor, which was put out in 1983 by a support group of the women’s peace camp as a fundraising device and a means to publicise and promote the aims of the movement. Looking at the photograph, our eye may be caught by the lines of exhaustion and the serious and perhaps troubled expression on Hiro’s face, which are underscored by her ruffled hair. We may notice her averted and restrained posture, metaphorically reinforced by the laces on her boots. Furthermore, the plume of smoke half enshrouding Hiro’s figure may evoke in us the image of a supernatural apparition, as if this figure somehow did not belong there but had been summoned from another world.

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