At the heart of the group exhibition FEM-aFFINITY is intersectional, inclusive feminism. The exhibition, which tours Australia in 2020, pairs seven Arts Project Australia artists with seven external artists on the basis of interest, artistic process, subject matter and other affinities. The artists spent six months working together at Arts Project Australia. The seven visiting artists came to the studio every day so all the artists could create and respond to each other together. The resulting exhibition is a testament to the power of collaboration, and what can be achieved through it.

Curator Dr Catherine Bell says one of the main aims of the exhibition is to present Arts Project Australia artists as career artists in their own right. Many Arts Project Australia artists have established practices and should be considered peers of contemporary artists. But, perhaps because of their association with disability, they have not been offered the same opportunities or recognition.

FEM-aFFINITY places these artists as contemporaries and peers, and also makes a concerted effort to encourage people to move away from binary and divisive classifications like ‘disabled artists’ and ‘abled artists.’

Bell also hopes that the exhibition will move towards shifting the conversation away from disability and instead focus on two female artists connecting thanks to a shared process, aesthetic, or beyond. The evidence of these partnerships can be seen in the new work created for the exhibition, and also in the artists’ earlier works, also on display in FEM-aFFINITY, which show their respective lines of inquiry.

In a traditional example of a collaborative work, Heather Shimmen and Bronwyn Hack – two printmakers who both share an interest in gothic narratives and true crime – created Exquisite Corpse, 2019, during the six-month period. Their Exquisite Corpse is a mish-mash of their respective corporeal lino-cut investigations, measuring somewhere around three metres high. The work bears signs of the frenetic nature of creating the work together, Bell says.

Other pairings are less physically collaborative and instead are more reflective in nature. In their respective careers to date, Prudence Flint and Cathy Staughton have explored expressions of feminine identity in stylistically and materially different ways.

Staughton’s works on paper are physically emotive, whereas Flint’s paintings are more measured and quietly tense. For the exhibition, Staughton chose to respond to Flint’s work, producing immediate, expressive drawings that are allusions and reinterpretations of Flint’s original paintings.

When observing the artist pairings at work at Arts Project Australia over the six-month period, Bell could see the kinship between these artists blossom and develop. Through this collaborative process, the artists found new strengths and connections, many saying how exhilarating this new way of working was for them.

“Artists are often siloed in their own little worlds, creating work alone in their own studios, removed from anyone else. This process has seen the artists learn about new practices, new techniques, and even new ways of thinking,” Bell says.

And in that spirit of open-mindedness and understanding, Bell hopes visitors to the exhibition walk away with that same attitude and continue the conversations around collaboration and inclusion beyond the gallery walls.

Devonport Regional Gallery
25 January – 15 March 2020

Benalla Art Gallery
19 April – 28 June 2020

Preview Words by Nadiah Abdulrahim