Recently I met a very inspiring woman who has dedicated much of her life to women living with Aids. At #ArtlandsVictoria I asked her about her practice and what motivated her.
Where were you born
Born in Melbourne Victoria 1954
Where do you live now?
I live now in Beechworth Victoria -temporarily but you could say globally actually
Do you consider your self as an artist?
I’m an artist, an advocate, an activist, a collaborator with women and families globally contemplating HIV, harm reduction and human right through art.
What Artform do you practice?
My work is site specific- it depends on who I collaborate with, what country I am in , what materials are available, what they are comfortable working with, my own personal western me me me practice is sculpture; bronzes, large public art installations
How did you get into the arts?
You could say it was when I was eight years old making mud pies in my grandmothers place in Fern Gully. Maybe that was my first community arts project. But my first real community project didn’t happen in Australia.
I have always been arts orientated. I’m a classic artisan- attracted to different mediums, never just satisfied with one. I like investigating, playing with different things. It depends on concepts and depends on materials.
It depends on passion.
My background is actually psychology.
Realistically my arts practices began when I was in England in the 70s working with a “battered wives home.”
The women were so traumatised that they couldn’t talk about their experiences …. so we created it.
My interest in creativity and the arts was used to collaborate with them, manifest or vent their issues. To story-tell, to have a place to put your voice, to be able to externalise the trauma and look at it objectively or morph it into something.
How do you take it from the creation or telling of trauma to the transformation-?
When making it there’s no difference between the storytelling and the outcome.
The outcome is the storytelling, it’s attached, it is something you can project onto it.
The transformation comes from working together to reflect back on it, talking about what it meant to them, how it is seen.
The conversation in some cases challenge us to think on it and visualise it differently.
How is this different from Art Therapy?
It’s not art therapy its just an extension of an art making process itself.
There is a big difference.
We can all be perplexed we all want to envisage our life journey as good.
To tell the story through the arts and have someone share it, is being able to reflect on it with a different perspective instead of being encumbered by it.
I think art therapy is a way that sectors can realise that the arts are a voice or a tool .
But because of that they are oblivious that the arts encompass a vast part of our everyday lives.
The danger is that arts and its purpose is being packaged for problem solving for therapy such as is the case in the study and use of arts therapy rather than a tool for transformation in and of itself.
And the value of arts in expressing our experiences?
To just voice it.
It provides a sense of relief.
Sometimes it’s so entangled in itself.
To creat enables you to grow the work, to disentangle it t try and make sense , to nurture it to move on or through to the next journey.
Making art is making a place to put it and you are not in therapy then.
Ha ha ..maybe!
So tell me a bit more about your arts practice?
I call myself a dogsbody
I can’t say I am just a facilitator. Specifically I am engaged, I am developing relationships for all of us.
I am no guru or wondrous one…
I love what I am doing.
I love meeting people who are generous of spirit and that’s what I attain to be.
They inspire me
When I meet them I admire them.
Women and women who are living in a non white western culture I totally admire.
Why is that?
Their survival skills- way beyond my ability.
So tell me about your experiences with that ,what was your role in Africa?-
It began when I had a critical incident and trauma clinic in Kampala , my main focus was not just with women. I have lived al over Africa working with people living with HIV….
( at this stage the words and memories are tumbling out faster than I can capture)
When I worked in the HIV field…. I would be working with ….I worked in a village outside Zanzibar, as I came in, as I arrived in town I had to be accepted by the local traditional healer the female Babu. She scanned me, then they took me up to the school where the doctor was having a conversation with the school about HIV and how it was similar to Malaria, (she groans)
So you had to dispel or correct the messages they were getting..Tell me more about the aid/arts work you have done globally.
Yes, let me tell you about working in Sulawesi.
I was working with 250 people from all over South East Asia taken in by an Indonesian harm reduction body. My job was to work with the community, we flew in to Makassar and were picked up by army trucks that were taking us into the Jungle. Now everyone in Indonesia is terrified by the army. So the look on their faces when trucks overflowing with obscure groups of junkies are hanging out of the back of army trucks. Meanwhile I’m in the front talking to the army personnel educating them about AIDS and HIV.
On that project we created 150 metres of artworks threaded through the jungle. We talked about the issues of reaching targets and lack of funding. The canvases we made started to articulate these issues and presenting the voice of women; about what happens to them.
Out of that …. we set up a group of women and artists who then were able to fly into Bali where more artwork was created with communities there engaging with more than 3000 people on HIV, human rights , harm reduction, they learnt about discrimination and stigma, then from there there were further groups of women….
And in Australia?
At the International Aids Conference 2014 in Melbourne we did 8 projects called Positively Fabulous changing womens lives.
We had the pink Positively Fabulous touring caravan complete with a filming unit. A collaboration with The Positively Fabulous Alyson Campbell “GI ry” (she says as an aside)
We were filming people in city square, interviewing people about what they knew about women living with HIV, then talking with women who had HIV and brokering conversations. The students from the VCA were doing an arts project …. How much spit do you have to swallow before you get infected with HIV, or how many tears. before you get infected with HIV.
Amazing friends and performers- Marisa Quigley, Ross Anderson- Doherty. There was the Bollywoods Laxmi Tripathi who is a transgender from India - the first women with gender neutral passport from India.
There was participatory interactive art the Babbling Boudoir a three metre high four-poster bed with a TV screen sharing peoples stories audiences could record while taking about having sex and living with HIV.
WE made a Kitchen a replica 1950s version covered in artwork and invited people to sit down at the table and talk about HIV.
We created 17 HIV positive mannequins that had been adopted out globally into a families and morphed into Positively Fabulous beings and became part of the family to illustrate ways of living with HIV. Then we had The Miss Universe HIV beauty pageant of the mannequins with Laxmii as MC then planned Sothebys to auction off the mannequins with the funds going back to women in developing countries.
The 17 Mannequins which included Indigenous mannequins prompted talks between the students and participants in the project about HIV, discrimination and connections to the 17 million women globally who are living with HIV.
We were fortunate to have funding for research and making a movie through Change Media, the Australia Council , Melbourne City Council and The English Family Foundation Globally Aware philanthropic funds.
So why do you do this ?
Because I love the work, because its informative, I’m engaged, because I can’t stand being bored because there needs to be change, because I am offended with a 16th Century attitude to women in the 21st century.
I’m a believer in psycho social support and self determination and I believe that it doesn’t
matter who you are or where you are from the language of art is accessible by everyone.
What is your vision for the future?
Art in schools for a start, I think that we as artists we need to respect the fact of how valuable our art is and therefore it should be at the table, it should be immersed in every part of life . There needs to be more respect for it. When you are working across other sectors they have this superiority syndrome and process and language we have to use…we need to respect ourselves more and use our own line. The health sector are beginning to \ talking the talk but still haven’t quite surpassed the art therapy thing.
There needs to be as much emphasis put on the journey as on the outcome if not more.
If you could change one thing what might that be?
Make it mandatory that all government departments incorporate the arts into their policies and programs.
One step at a time realistically….
So what’s next ?
Just trying to figure out. I’ve come back to oz from living overseas for so long that I don’t have a a network and am not known for the work I do so I have to re-establish myself..so I’m contemplating doing my own practice and it doesn’t really do it for me… I love my work,,…realistically I will probably go back overseas or start up my own centre or a centre for artists here in Australia ….
Kim is a fascinating women and artist doing amazing work… I feel I have only just scratched the surface of her life and work. “I haven’t even told you about Madam Kim in Bangkok…but that is another story!”
I hope we cross paths again so I can hear about that too!