This week, actor and activist Emma Watson and author Reni Eddo-Lodge announced plans to recreate the London Tube map with stations named after historic women and non-binary people connected to the English capital, reports Alison Flood for the Guardian.
The project draws inspiration from a similar map created by author Rebecca Solnit and geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. Centered on the New York City Subway, the pair’s “City of Women” map—first published in 2016 and most recently updated in 2019—features stations renamed after such individuals as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams, writer Edith Wharton, and actress Lauren Bacall.
By reimagining the city’s geography, the map’s creators hoped to prompt discussion of how people would think differently if women’s history and accomplishments were integrated into the landscape as thoroughly as men’s.
“We now want to do the same for London, claiming the iconic Underground map for the women who have made and continue to make the city,” the new project’s organizers say in a statement accompanying a call for suggestions.
Eddo-Lodge (perhaps best known for the 2017 book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race) and Watson will collaborate with Solnit Jelly-Schapiro, the Women of the World Foundation, “historians, writers, curators, community organizers, museums, and librarians to produce a map that changes our understanding of public history,” per the statement.
As Solnit wrote for the New Yorker in 2016, “City of Women” underscores a stark reality: namely, that a “horde of dead men with live identities haunt New York City and almost every city in the Western world,” their names emblazoned on everything from streets to buildings, subway stations and statues.
Though some monuments to women exist in the city, many—including the Statue of Liberty—represent “allegories and nobodies, mothers and muses and props,” not actual historical figures, says Solnit.
“Names offer really powerful signals about what we value as a society, about the histories that we avow, about the histories that we want to push under the rug,” Jelly-Schapiro told Gothamist’s Shumita Basu in 2019. “And I think it’s an incredibly powerful and overdue conversation we’re having now about who are the people that we celebrate in public space and how does that shape how we experience those places.”
The New York City map places women’s names next to subway stops in the neighborhoods where they had the biggest impact. Gretta Moulton, for instance, is featured on Staten Island, where she helped the Girl Scouts establish High Rock Park during the 1960s. Singer Mary J. Blige shows up in the Bronx, where she was born in 1971. Twentieth-century poet Julia de Burgos, who served as an arts and culture editor for the progressive newspaper Pueblos Hispanos, also appears in the Bronx.
So far, suggestions for the London Tube map include businesswoman and nurse Mary Seacole; singer Amy Winehouse; and writers Zadie Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Jung Chang and Virginia Woolf. Since the city has 270 stations in need of renaming (New York’s subway, comparatively, has more than 400), the project team is seeking suggestions from the public.
“Which woman or non-binary person, living or dead, famous or lesser known, would you like to nominate?” a Google form set up for submissions reads.
The page also asks participants to explain their reason for nominating an individual and identify which station the person would best represent.
This isn’t the first time artists and activists have redrawn the London Tube map: Previous examples include Thick/er Black Lines’s We Apologize for the Delay in Your Journey, which highlighted black British women, femme artists and cultural workers, and Simon Patterson’s The Great Bear, a 1992 artwork that replaced station names with those of “engineers, philosophers, explorers, planets, journalists, footballers, musicians, film actors, saints, Italian artists, sinologues (Chinese scholars), comedians and ‘Louis’ (French kings),” according to Tate Liverpool.
Solnit and Jelly-Schapiro’s map “was made to sing the praises of the extraordinary women who have, since the beginning, been shapers and heroes of this city that has always been, secretly, a City of Women,” the former says in a statement. “And why not the subway? This is a history still emerging from underground, a reminder that it’s all connected, and that we get around.”
Chicago-based publisher Haymarket Books will launch the reimagined London tube map next International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021.