IT was February, 1974, when 19-year-old heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped from her apartment in California by an urban guerilla group and held for ransom.
Her kidnappers, the Symbionese Liberation Army, demanded that the Hearst family launch a multi-million dollar operation to feed needy Californians.
The events that followed would have been tough for anyone to predict. In April, 1974, a tape was released on which Patty announced that she had joined the SLA and taken on the new name of Tania.
Later that month she was photographed wielding a gun at a bank robbery in San Francisco, a crime for which she was later arrested and imprisoned. Eventually, under Bill Clinton’s presidency, she was officially pardoned.
Patty’s case is now seen to be one of the first examples of Stockholm Syndrome, a condition in which, during the intense ordeal of capture, the person who has been kidnapped develops feelings of attachment and loyalty to their captors.
Today, the reasons behind the actions of this pretty teenage girl still fascinate psychologists and scholars alike.
And, here in Northamptonshire, American-born artist Jessica Harby has used Patty’s story as the focus for her new exhibition Pretty Girls Doing Horrid Things, which is being held at the Sanctuary Gallery in Clare Street, The Mounts.
Jessica, who is 31 and now lives in Northampton, said: “The central figure is Patty Hearst, heiress to the Hearst publishing fortune. I have been interested in her for years but the show also dwells on the themes of shifts in identity and villainy, also the danger of girls in growing up, and femininity.”
She continued: “It is that age, from 17 to 19, I was reading a book about a Victorian murder where it ended up that a teenage girl in a family had killed her half brother.
“There was a quote from The Times about how, in the teenage years you are susceptible to evil and corrupting influence.”
Jessica’s work includes use of watercolour, pencil and ink and this exhibition is made up of 15 drawings and fabric pieces focusing on elements of violence and femininity to which, she hopes, viewers will respond with their own feelings.
One image seems to show a scream from Patty herself, while another shows a contemporary view of Patty as she is today, looking after one of her prized French bulldogs.
Alongside each work is a quote from one of the tapes made by Patty during her kidnap ordeal.
Through her work, Jessica admits she likes to deal with the concept of young women being treated as vessels for ideas, as well as the social construct of villainy.
And, from this perspective, Patty Hearst is an interesting case.
Jessica said: “She is a good rich girl, turned into revolutionary, turned into a good rich girl again. When she was actually charged, everyone believed she was doing this of her own will. Everyone would just believe that this young girl was waiting for an opportunity to pick up a machine gun and go into a bank.
“A lot of people were looking at their kids and saying ‘we don’t know who these people are’.
“I had a specific story in my head in doing this exhibition but with the work itself I don’t like to be too literal. Looking at them is meant to prompt a feeling. It is a bit like running through a theatre when a movie is playing.”
The exhibition, which opened yesterday, will run until March 16. It will be open 11am until 4pm each day, except Sundays. Admission is free.
To find out more about Jessica’s work, log onto www.jessicaharby.com