In mid-2012, women’s rights were in the public consciousness. The Murdoch press was busy jeering at then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s appearance and childlessness and Tony Abbott had recently referred to “the housewives of Australia doing their ironing.” In Melbourne, 29-year-old Jill Meagher disappeared during a five-minute walk home, sparking national outcry.
This was the cultural backdrop when Kelly Doley embarked on The Learning Centre: Two Feminists, in September 2012. Over the course of the three-week project, Gillard would give her now-infamous, furiously biting misogyny speech; and the Jill Meagher case would proceed from missing-persons to rape and murder. Feminist energy had been bubbling under the surface but these events catalysed a tumult of media coverage and online discussion. It was a turning point.
The Learning Centre: Two Feminists took place at Westspace in Melbourne. In a gallery-turned-classroom with blackboards and desks, Doley met one-on-one with 16 strangers. In return for painting their portraits, she received a 30-minute lessons on feminism from each one. The expertise of the participants included feminist cultural theory, domestic violence advocacy, raunch-culture, eco-feminism, medieval feminism, and the black women’s rights movement. Chosen for their diverse perspectives, the resulting conversations traversed a wealth of knowledge, experience and opinion.
Out of this came Doley’s project, Things Learnt About Feminism. Drawing on the political slogan as a cliché of second-wave feminism, Doley condensed the conversations down into catchphrases (a process that took a year) and produced an installation of 95 hand-painted posters.
Her eye-catching aesthetic of black ink on fluoro backgrounds lets the slogans speak for themselves. The call to arms of ‘Equality Now!’ is matched by the weary ‘Going Round in Circles’ and ‘Pushing Big Rocks Up Hills’. ‘Feminism by Stealth’ sits alongside ‘The Time for Feminism by Stealth is Over’.
This range of ideas (often in opposition to one another) allows for a broad, intersectional catalogue of contemporary feminist thought. As Doley says, “I wanted to communicate the contradictory, overlapping, circular notions of what feminism is, or can be, or what it was.”
Doley’s 95 Things Learnt About Feminism are evidently not intended as a complete definition, if such a thing can even be attempted, but rather a snapshot of how the movement exists today: ever-shifting, many-layered, but stronger than ever.