As the year draws to a close, it would appear that 2015 has been a year dominated by the F word. Feminism, that is. Thanks to social media, the resurgence of feminist discourse has gone global, with online platforms allowing an international community of women to share their ideas with each other, and the rest of the world. Down Under, 2015 has seen the birth of The Ladies Network, a new art collective offering both online and real life opportunities for Australian women to showcase their creativity. Via bi-monthly exhibitions, Instagram and their website, The Ladies Network is surfing this new wave of feminism with its own uniquely antipodean twist. Here So It Goes meets its founder, Lara Vrkic, to discuss Australia’s bespoke brand of Girl Power.
What motivated you to start the Ladies Network?
It started as a way to collaborate on something with a group of my close friends. We were all creative and into art but would never put our stuff in a show or approach anyone about it.
We decided to get about 30 girls together so that it wasn't super intimidating, and have a party! After the first exhibition I got so many emails from people asking how they could be involved. It made me realise just how necessary this was as a platform for female artists.
How does it operate?
We're all about growing organically - we get most of our ideas from artists and people who come to the exhibitions. People are like "do this!" and we're like "Yeah! We can totally do that!"
Normally we include about 25 women, but at the last exhibition we had 42 women due to the overwhelming response after the first two shows. There's no special criteria, it's whoever wants to be involved, which means there is a really broad range of both media and subject matter.
Why do you feel that there is a particular resurgence of feminism in art at the moment? Is there a link to the digital age?
I think that the previous conversation about feminism has been largely negative and there's been a really great resurgence of positive groups of women collaborating in Sydney. It's really motivating women to get involved and do more things. I think the reason we are having such a great response is because The Ladies Network offers a really positive way of looking at feminism.
Instagram has been our primary communication platform and way of getting attention. The comments allow people to share positivity with each other in response to work. It's also a great way of sharing your work without it being so daunting.
The Ladies Network appears to be a very supportive platform based around the idea of friendship and female unity - do you think that this differs from the competitive nature of women in other industries?
I think that in creative industries there is less of a need to compete when women feel confident and can showcase their work. With The Ladies Network everything has been so positive; I always had this idea that women were really competitive but the response to it has totally changed my mind.
What do you find are the main themes that preoccupy contemporary Australian women?
When people come to the exhibitions they think the themes are all going to be themes of sexuality and the male gaze - but the art we exhibit is so far from those expectations. In Sydney in particular we focus a lot on the Australian landscape and the outdoors and there are lots of our artists that have visited themes of indigenous Australia in terms of patterns, colour and media. Holly Greenwood, an artist from our most recent exhibition did her work on tree bark. It's nice to see artists using Australia as an influence, as so much of fashion and music is influenced by overseas creatives.
What do you feel are the main issues affecting creative women today?
The industry is so saturated with men, so it can be hard to find opportunities to get involved. We were in the process of booking bands for a gig that we have coming up and we were having trouble thinking of bands that weren't dominated by guys.
We sometimes get messages from quite established male artists who want to be involved, so it's cool that we are changing that pattern in some way. We want to break the cycle and it seems to be happening!
How would you feel about having a man come on board as part of your team?
I sort of regret not including a guy from the start - I think it's really important that guys are involved, as long as it still remains a project to showcase female artists. It's just a tricky balance!
For example, a lot of event photographers in Sydney are guys, but our whole aim is trying to get girls into those positions, but in doing that you do exclude guys. Our project is more about making women the focus, rather than focusing on the exclusion of men.
Are there any featured "Ladies" whose work you particularly like or feel have a particularly significant message for contemporary women?
I have become obsessed with the Melbourne-based artist Esther Olsson. I also really like the work of Noni Cragg - she has an aboriginal background but she paints contemporary women in an indigenous style.
Plans for the future?
In 2016 we're also going to try and build an agency for female creatives - a place where they can sell their work online, offer art consultancy. We've got a massive first birthday planned for May where we are hoping to take over a couple of different spaces and make a street festival.
It's all a progression - we'll take over an art gallery, then a suburb, then a state, and then the takeover will be international!!
Words by Georgia Graham
Portraits by Manuela Leigh