Stitching together an exhibition that foregrounds women’s art

SHE of Mind and Body is the latest showcase from the Walker Street Gallery and Arts Centre in Dandenong, which celebrates art by and for women.

Opening in time for International Women’s Day (8 March) is the latest exhibition from SHE.
With over 20 years of presentations, SHE is one of the longest running exhibitions that
showcase the work of all-women art. These exhibitions often incorporate the word ‘She’ in
their titles, with the latest iteration being SHE of Mind and Body.

After three years of COVID disruptions, SHE is returning to the Walker Street Gallery and
Arts Centre in Dandenong to explore the tangled skeins of womanhood today through 10
artists and their textile work. This year the participating artists of SHE of Mind and Body are: Dans Bain, Anna Farago, Neroli Henderson, Georgia MacGuire, Chaco Kato, Vonda Keji, Caroline Phillips, Nusra Qureshi, Ema Shin and Kate V M Sylvester. 

ArtsHub spoke to its curator Alojz Babic, who says that the whole exhibition took roughly
five months to knit together and comprises a mix of previously created and newly created
pieces from 2015 onwards. Babic points out the landmark text that underwrites his
curatorship, and to which he wants to pay homage, is Rozsika Parker’s influential The
Subversive Stitch
, a history of embroidery and its relationship to femininity and the public

Feminist art of the 60s and 70s was instrumental in taking the craft of textile-making from
the private sphere and pushing it out into the outside domain, where it could make a
statement and be seen as a viable force against ‘the cityscapes and public spheres dominated
by men’, says Babic. Such collusion of art and politics continues apace today.

Far from textiles being relegated to the soft feminine arts and associated with inoffensive
domesticity, this exhibition, Babic stresses, is powerfully wrought and emphatically political.
‘In SHE, I followed the legacy of the feminists and developed work that spoke to today’s
concerns, whether that’s domestic and gender-based violence or prohibitive abortion
controls like we see in the US. It’s about reclaiming space for women’s voices. In this case,
textiles are being deployed as a way to further interrogate feminist history and contemporary

Casting an eye over the work of the 10 artists exhibiting in SHE in 2023, it’s clear that there’s
a variety of styles and materials that have been gathered together under Babic’s stewardship.
Particularly striking among the various depictions of the female body and anatomy is Ema
Shin’s Soft Alchemy (Womb for everyone), a woven tapestry made from cotton, wool, wire
and acrylic. Elsewhere, other artists have utilised a range of mixed media in their
work, including quilting, tapestry, embroidery and recycled T-shirts.

Babic says his role as curator lends him the opportunity to be objective and wide-ranging in
his choices. He sees his job as facilitating a ‘passageway’ between the art and the viewer, and
is happy to be in the background pushing the 10 artists to the fore. ‘I’m the engine room that
organises and drives the mechanics of the exhibition,’ he says. ‘It’s quite incredible for a local
gallery like this one in Dandenong to run programs that celebrate women artists for such a
long time – for over two decades.’

SHE of Mind and Body will be on display until 31 March 2023 at Walker Street Gallery and
Arts Centre, Dandenong.

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press (UWAP). Her next collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Twitter: @thuy_on