News, Reviews, Visual arts

A call for change

Review: Olivia Colja (curator), ‘WOMXN’ ·
Spectrum Project Space ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

‘WOMXN’, curated by Olivia Colja, is a group exhibition featuring emerging artists from Edith Cowan University (ECU) whose work addresses and interrogates experiences of womanhood and femininity. Coinciding with International Women’s Day, the exhibition also incorporated a day-long conference, Articulate, with a number of presentations from female arts workers and artists, providing a platform for discussion, advocacy and mentorship.

The strong themes of activism, collaboration and community engagement are immediately obvious. Throughout the exhibition there are signs asking for donated sanitary items for women in need, as well as lit candles for every woman who died from male violence in 2018. In this way, the exhibition is more than a platform for some of ECU’s exciting emerging artists to show their work. It’s also a call for lasting change, and suggests some concrete actions to start you on your way.

a bed with blood on it
Daisy Safrasky’s ‘I Bled Four Days’. Photo: Kristy Scadden.

These features of the exhibition also stand as a gesture of acknowledgement that the show’s themes are people’s lived experiences, and the works created emerge from real-life situations of danger, pain, and frustration with structural gender inequality that cannot be left behind upon leaving the gallery space. A work such as Daisy Safrasky’s I Bled Four Days is the manifestation of the burden and trauma carried by victims of sexual assault. A live recreation of the artist’s bed in the centre of the gallery is covered with clothing meticulously embroidered with statements from women who experienced sexual assault. In their stories, a bed is not a place of refuge but of danger – in the gallery space, however, it becomes a platform for sharing experiences and releasing the burden of shame.

A room with pink and red curtains and cushions
Cian Holt’s ‘Womb Room’. Photo: Shona McGregor.

Many works have a particular focus on the handmade, with stitching, embroidery and thread common themes running through the exhibition. Some are understated, delicate works that pack an emotional punch, such as Janice Fawcett’s Kintsugi, an installation of threads and broken crockery that manifests the pain and loss associated with miscarriage. At other times, handcrafts have more expansive, light-hearted associations with traditional feminine – or feminist – imagery. Cian Holt’s Womb Room, for example, is a garishly pink and humorously playful space in which the viewer can rest, relax and unwind.

This focus on vaginal and labial imagery, menstruation and reproduction demonstrates that there is still much concern about the ways in which women’s bodies are represented, restricted and controlled, despite several generations of the feminist project. I felt, however, that the over- over-emphasis on vaginal or menstrual imagery as representing womanhood could alienate some viewers, and that some more nuanced interrogations about the nebulous definitions and interpretations of womanhood itself could be valuable.

However, the common threads running through the exhibition create a thoughtful exhibition that clearly portrays the strong emotional and professional bonds formed by the artists and curators during the conception of the exhibition, and the strength of feeling and clarity of vision associated with the subject matter.

WOMXN’ runs at Spectrum Project Space until March 16.

Pictured top: “Turn and face the strange” by Shona McGregor. Photo: Shona McGregor.

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