Words, photos and podcast production by Jenni Mazaraki
Thirty-nine portraits of trailblazing women in one room is an exhibition worth celebrating.
I visited the Trailblazing Women of Herstory exhibition organised by the Global Women’s Project (GWP) at Neospace Gallery in Collingwood and spoke with Carmen Hawker, Manager and founding member of the GWP.
At the entrance to the gallery I am welcomed by a portrait of a proud indigenous woman, painted by Amanda Wright. The exhibition space at Neospace Gallery is small and bright. On the walls hang artworks of varying styles, shapes and dimensions. Despite the differences, the curator and contributing artist Lizzie Dennis has created a cohesive feel to the exhibition.
The Global Women’s Project
Carmen is one of the four founding members of the Global Women’s Project, a not for profit organisation that focuses on supporting women with initiatives that encourage gender equality.
The Global Women’s Project has been running for 3 years and are currently supporting two women led organisations; the Stung Teng Women’s Development Centre (SWDC) in Cambodia and the Women’s Foundation Nepal (WFN). The Global Women’s Project’s purpose is to assist them with funding, resources and training.
The SWDC in Cambodia support women experiencing severe disadvantage by running programs to support women’s business skills, health and literacy and numeracy. The executive Director of SWDC, Chantha Nguon dedicates her life to empower Cambodian women.
The WFN in Nepal focus on improving the status of women. The president of WFN, Renu Sharma established the organisation in 1988 which now supports a number of initiatives including vocational training, legal support and shelters and counselling for women who have experienced domestic violence.
Trailblazing Women of Herstory exhibition
The exhibition has been organised to raise funds to support the organisations as well as to raise awareness about the importance of gender equality. The exhibition is about,
“Celebrating and honouring all the women that have come before us in a way that acknowledges where we are right now and looks forward so it’s sort of this nice synergy between past present and future,” said Carmen.
The concept for the exhibition was developed by Carmen and the CEO of the GWP, Briony MacKenzie 6 months ago. Most of the artists had two months to complete a piece specifically for the exhibition. The portraits had to be of women that the artists considered to be trailblazing women. The women in the portraits did not need to be high profile, in fact Carmen explained that highlighting the achievements of women who were not well known was a benefit of the exhibition.
“It’s been such a privilege to pull it together and give opportunities to some artists that wouldn’t otherwise be able to exhibit alongside these really well known award winning artists,” said Carmen.
Each portrait tells a story
Carmen told me about the stories behind the portraits, such as artist Aziheh Astaneh’s portrait of her great grandmother who was a pioneer for educational opportunities in Iran. Aziheh discovered the transformative benefits of artmaking as a refugee in detention centres on Christmas Island and Melbourne. It is Aziheh’s first portrait and represents four generations of women in her family.
The space has been host to the exhibition as well as events during the 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. In addition to the Gala Launch which was held on November 25, they have held stencil art workshops with artist Sarah Skarlicki and an evening of discussion led by the Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust, Mary Crooks AO which focused on the lack of women’s representation in the Arts. Live painting by Jessica Kease (23rd Key) resulted in a portrait of Zaha Hadid painted on a roller door near the gallery.
There are 39 portraits of trailblazing women contributed by 37 artists in the Trailblazing Women of Herstory exhibition. The artists are local as well as from around the world. An important part of this exhibition is not just raising funds to support the initiatives of the Global Women’s Project, but also to support the artists. The GWP have done this by deciding to offer the artists 50% of all sales, as a way to recognise the artists’ skill. The GWP are aware that women and artists are consistently expected to offer their time and skills for free, and they felt it was important that all women involved in the projects were respected for their contribution.
The exhibition is on until Sat 10 December 10am to 4pm. To close the exhibition, there will be a special spoken word event with Mother Tongue and Fleassy Malay at 2pm. There are artworks remaining for sale as well as merchandise such as postcards, notebooks, silk scarves and limited edition prints with proceeds from sales going to the fundraising effort.
Trailblazing Women of Herstory fundraising art exhibition is at Neospace Gallery, 7 Campbell St, Collingwood until Saturday 10 December 2016.
(Feature image ‘Edna Walling’ by Sally Paxton.)