Conversations with Creative Women at the Convent

    The Convent is home to over 120 creatives, organisations and wellbeing practitioners, forming the beating heart of this creative precinct.

    This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the women in our Convent community. Their presence and work breathes new life into this historic precinct every day. 

    Leisa Shelton, Artist-in-Residence

    Can you briefly describe yourself and the work you do.

    Artist. Mother. Curious traveller. Holder of space.

    What (or who) are you inspired by? 

    The cultural change I feel agitating within the current generation of fierce first nations emerging leaders.

    What are you most proud of?

    The exceptional young woman my daughter is becoming.

    What do you see as the greatest challenge facing women in the arts?

    Remaining resilient and being able to create new economies, new value systems that acknowledge the unique ways we work and the unique voices we bring.

    Remaining present for one another.

    How would you like to see the arts industry evolve to foster greater inclusivity?

    By becoming better listeners.
    By acknowledging indigenous knowledge and recognising our Elders.
    By acknowledging and honoring the incredible lineage of practice within Australia.
    By enabling new models of practice that support a feminine paradigm and processes.
    By becoming more curious, open and responsive to all the exceptional work being made and enabled by women and female identifying artists.
    By recognising the lack of inclusivity and committing to change.

    fragment31.com

    Eva Heiky Olga Abbinga, Artist

    Can you briefly describe yourself and the work you do.

    I am a visual artist interested in identity and place. I work collaboratively with community groups and volunteers to realise large scale soft sculptures. I predominately work with textiles and particularly enjoy making connections between people and place. I am currently working in a collaboration with visual artist Larissa Linnell on Crownings from a studio we share at the Abbotsford Convent. Crownings is made with the help of around 100 volunteers and is a response to the former Womens Hospital in Carlton. An exhibition of the work will be on display at the Galley at City Library in April 2019.

    What (or who) are you inspired by?

    I am enthralled by the history of needlework. Learning about the rich history of textiles in general, gives me much pleasure. My current art hero’s are Louise Bourgeois, Sheila Hicks, Francoise Grossen, Mona Hatoum, Eva Hesse, Louise Weaver and Kate Just.  

    What are you most proud of?

    I am most proud of the projects I have seen through to completion. It’s a great feeling seeing a large scale sculpture evolve and finally come together, with the help of many hands.  

    What do you see as the greatest challenge facing women in the arts?

    Access to the higher echelons of art audiences. As the Countess Report outlines the closer to the money, the less representation of women. Equal representation in State galleries is our challenge. But greater yet, I would love to see the history of needlework be elevated to equal to painting. True equality will be reached when traditionally women’s art forms and their histories are celebrated as high art. 

    How would you like to see the arts industry evolve to foster greater inclusivity?

    Inclusivity in the arts industry must be genuine and come from within. As a white person in Australia, questioning, reflecting and educating myself is something I can do within my own practice to activate change. This is not easy, but I believe that institutional change happens through the changes of individuals. Representation within institutions is also crucial for different voices to be heard.

     evaheikyolgaabbinga.com

    Micheline Lee, Writer and Artist

    Can you briefly describe yourself and the work you do. 

    I have been a Convent tenant for about 12 years and love my little studio that used to be a nun’s bedroom. When I first moved into the studio, I was a painter. I used to open the door and sit out in the corridor in order to view the painting I was working on with enough distance. Some years ago I started writing. My first novel, The Healing Party, was published by Black Inc in 2016. It was a finalist in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, the Nita B Kibble Literary Award, the Voss Literary Prize and the Melbourne Prize Readings Award.

    I am now working on a compilation of personal essays for a PhD at Melbourne Uni.  The Art of Dependency was published in The Monthly and in The Best Australian Essays 2017.

    What are you most proud of?

    I’m really proud of my son and the good and caring person he is becoming.

    What do you see as the greatest challenge facing women in the arts?

    It is women artists and writers like Helen Garner who so strongly presented the personal and took the stigma out of vulnerability. I hope that this strength will continue to thrive and evolve in the midst of all the  “sharing” in social media.

    How would you like to see the arts industry evolve to foster greater inclusivity?

     The arts industry has the imagination and leadership to be more inclusive. However, it often cites lack of funding for the changes needed such as better access. Discrimination is entrenched in our values and social structures and the first step is making it a priority to recognise and remove bias.

    blackincbooks.com.au/authors/micheline-lee

    Lucy Hardie, Artist 

    Can you briefly describe yourself and the work you do.

    I work as a visual artist, focusing primarily on drawing and painting. My style is figurative and romantic, and my aim is to inspire experiences of intimacy, connection, tenderness and power through the work. 

    What (or who) are you inspired by?

    I am inspired by experiences, works of art, and people, that evoke a sense of the extra-ordinary.

    What are you most proud of?

    I am most proud of taking up opportunities as they have presented themselves, and of continuing to step in to the unknown as a creator.

    What do you see as the greatest challenge facing women in the arts?

    The belief, whether grounded in truth or not, that we have it harder than men. I see a danger that this can be used as an excuse for not putting ourselves out there, and as a story to explain away potential failures.

    How would you like to see the arts industry evolve to foster greater inclusivity?

    I would like to see focus taken off gender and on to the artwork, for artwork to be judged based in its merits, rather than on the gender of the person who created it (unless of course, the gender of the artist is integral to what the artist is wishing to convey through the work). This could include doing away with women-only exhibitions, and eradicating quotas for equal numbers of men and women in exhibitions and other art related events. If gender bias is an issue, set up systems that hide the gender of the artist, to give greater opportunity for the work to speak for itself.

    lucyhardie.com

    Read more about the creatives, organisations and wellbeing practitioners at the Convent.