Luminous Icons: The Final Count.

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2017-10-26)

Over the last six months, U2’s The Joshua Tree 2017 tour has featured a section of luminous icons titled HerStory. For fifty-one shows, each night the screen was filled with women who have fought for equality, who are leaders in science and politics, and almost every night there were changes made to the presentation. Last night the tour ended, and we saw HerStory for the last time. We thought it was a good time to look back over the tour.

HerStory was shown 51 times. That included every tour stop of The Joshua Tree 2017, and also at the Bonnaroo music festival. In every case except for one, the presentation was set to the song “Ultra Violet (Light My Way)”. In Philadelphia, however, on the first leg of the tour, the video of HerStory was used for the backdrop of “Mysterious Ways” instead.

During those 51 performances, by our count a total of 209 “icons” appeared on the screens by themselves in a single square. An additional 7 icons appeared where two or more people were pictured in a square, and mentioned by name. The people who shared a square were Barbara and Jenna Bush, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, and three of the Mirabel sisters. Thus a total of 216 women were named by name and shown during these concerts.

Each was displayed in a brightly coloured square, usually with the date of their birth, and if deceased, the year of their death. From the women whose dates are known, the earliest born was Aprha Behn, born in 1640. The most recently born, was Kehkashan Basu, born in 2000. From the women displayed whose dates are known, 2 icons were born in the 1600s, 4 were born in the 1700s, 28 were born in the 1800s, and 159 were born in the 1900s. Kehkashan Basu was the only one identified as having been born in 2000 or later. Fifteen icons have unknown birth dates.

Of the 194 icons we have dates for, a total of 90 had passed at the time of their presentation on the screen. The other 104 are still with us.

Seven different women were seen every night, at all 51 performances. These women were Nawal El Saadawi, Moms Mabley, Angela Merkel, Khalida Popal, Begum Rokeya, Patti Smith and Malala Yousafzai. The next three women most seen in the HerStory were Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (50 shows), Frederique Petrides (49 shows) and Mary Robinson (46 shows.)

The first woman seen in Vancouver, and thus the first one added to the list was Sojourner Truth. The last new face added to the presentation was added at the second show in Sao Paulo, when Chiquinha Gonzaga was added to the screens. No other women were added after that addition.

Many faces only appeared for one night, and indeed, 73 of the icons featured only appeared for one night in HerStory. The major shake ups in the presentation were as we shifted from one leg to another and moved from North America to Europe, back to the United States, and finally down to Mexico and Latin America. 154 icons only appeared only on one leg of the tour. 19 icons appeared on two legs. 22 women appeared on three legs of the tour. Four women appeared on all four legs of the tour, but did not appear every night. And the seven women listed above appeared at every show.

Over the course of the tour, 14 different organizations or movements appeared on the screen as well. Only three of these appeared at all 51 performances, and those were the Suffragettes, Pussy Riot and the WASP Women Air Force Service Pilots. The Match Girls Strike nearly appeared every night, missing just the performance in Dublin. Black Lives Matter and the Dunnes Store Strikers appeared the least, with just one appearance each.

For those who want a closer look at the women by tour leg, to learn a bit more about their history, or how the changes were made each night, we have a collection of stories for each leg:

The visual piece, HerStory, was developed by Alice Wroe. Wroe was interviewed by Cathleen Falsani in a report on U2.Com published near the end of the first leg of the tour. In that piece, Wroe goes into detail on the development of this piece, how the women are chosen as well as how they are organized on the screen. If you think you see patterns, that could be because the positions they are in are often carefully selected.

All of our coverage for the 30th Anniversary of The Joshua Tree, and The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 can be found in one location.

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