In late June I met with two remarkably driven women to speak about starting new initiatives in Adelaide. Through her initiative Girl Space, Laura Gentgall provides mentorship to women and female-identifying artists and the opportunity to exhibit their work in an accepting environment. So far, Girl Space has hosted two successful exhibitions in Adelaide, with a third coming up in September at The Mill.
Sanaa: A Better World Through Creativity was developed by Victoria Lewis as a platform to showcase the talents of international East African artists and South Australia’s newer diverse communities, many of whom originate from Africa - some in recent years, others having moved when they were very young. Sanaa hosts exhibitions at the Kerry Packer Civic Gallery, runs workshops to allow local youth to learn from international artists, and celebrated an art installation on Eliza Street with a festival featuring live music, market stalls and African cuisines.
Pictured: Sanaa Street Festival 2017
MALLORY: What are the goals of your project and do you feel you have met them?
LAURA: My initial goal was to provide a platform. I think that in some ways I’ve met that goal so far, but there are so many things I want to do with Girl Space. I want to create a real community-vibe and I want people to feel really comfortable interacting with and joining a small community. So I still think there’s a lot to do, but my early goals have definitely been met.
MALLORY: As you’ve worked on the project, have your goals changed and developed?
LAURA: Yeah, I can see more opportunities as we do more and I think, “Oh actually that could work, and that could happen…”
VICTORIA: One of our goals was to expose South Australians to new ideas and concepts. I don’t think there’s a huge African influence here. It’s up to the African population to introduce their own influence, but I hope to encourage others to take the risk. Art and creativity are now a legitimate stage of economic policy so the goal of the street art project was to transform an area of the city, which then leads to improvements for businesses by creating a more attractive street. Sanaa is about ‘A Better World Through Creativity’. I find at the moment there’s a lot of negativity which I think is stemming from probably the situation in the US; it’s creating waves throughout the world.
As a community, I think that we need to take some form of action. One way of doing this is to create an artistic platform for South Australia’s newer communities. Again, I can relate this to the economy. South Australia is struggling job-wise, and we need to look to people in our community to step forward with their talents and skills, and we need to support them. We have to look at other creative hubs around the world. They’ve got this vibe in the city where people just have a go - they’re not worried. I really think we need to encourage our newer, diverse communities to also have a go because if people are stepping out and showing us what they can do, that will encourage others.
MALLORY: So beyond a platform, you both aim to create an environment which support your respective communities need to have a go?
VICTORY: I think it’s important in Adelaide that we create that vibe… otherwise it’s hard to move forward as a city that embraces change. We want to be seen as an outward looking, diverse city. Diversity in a city contributes to a diverse economy. South Australia’s greatest leader advocated for multiculturalism and diversity – Don Dunstan, a reformist to South Australian society. Still to this day, we celebrate what he did for the State. We were once the most progressive city in Australia.
LAURA: I’m an artist myself and it’s so hard, especially when you’re a young girl; people look at you and don't often take you seriously. It’s so hard to take that first step and approach a gallery, a curator or a collaboration and say “Oh hey, I would love to be involved in this” - it’s very intimidating. One of my goals is to be an approachable person for others, because it is scary to put yourself out there.
Pictured: Artist Onyis talks to Walford Girls School
MALLORY: How have you approached promoting your events and encouraging others to become involved?
VICTORIA: I’ve in the first instance used my networks, but I also approached the Kenyan community in Adelaide, then the Sierra Leone women’s community group and the Tanzanian community group. Once I knew some of the youth in the community, I found artistic talent through networks and word of mouth. I was approaching people I hadn’t met before and saying, “I’ve got this concept, I’m bringing out these artists, this is the cause,” and they were really supportive. So I was using my networks, as well as social media. Whether it was fashion design, artists or cooking, I found people through social media and asked them if they wanted to be involved.
LAURA: I use social media for everything; to find artists, to promote events, to find galleries. It’s great to be able to go on a gallery’s Instagram and see what they exhibit and see if what I’m trying to bring would fit. I follow artists on Instagram that I’ve looked up to for ages - I’ll just chuck them a message like “Hey, you want to be involved in this?” and they usually either say “Yes” or “I’ve got something else on, but put me on the list for the next one”. It gives me a good list of people to go to. You can reach such a wide range of people by marketing through social media. I’ll post something and it’ll get shared and I’ve got no idea who’s seeing it, but it’s out there. I find social media’s the best way.
Pictured: Sanaa Street Festival 2017
MALLORY: I’ve heard and read a bit about the idea that social media is actually trapping us in bubbles, and that what we post will only be seen by people that are already on the same page. Have you experienced much of this in relation to your projects?
LAURA: Not really. For this upcoming exhibition I’m going to make flyers and posters and stuff, but I find that social media reaches a much wider audience than just my peer group. My mum usually shares it, so that’s her age group covered, and all of her friends share it as well!
VICTORIA: That’s what I did with a lot of the artists; I’d meet with them, take a photo and then write a blurb and we would share it via the Sanaa page. It would reach my networks, but also their networks, and there was a real support from the community behind them. They would share it on and it kept going. South Australian communities need to work together, for the better of the state. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
MALLORY: So you’re already reaching out into the community, and the links are spreading from multiple points rather than from just your own bubble. It’s great because I do hear a lot about this being a problem in Adelaide particularly; that we’re quite segregated, classist, cliquey. It sounds like your projects are reaching beyond that.
LAURA: I think there are definitely artistic groups within Adelaide that are very cliquey, and there are galleries that I haven’t wanted to approach because I know that they look for a certain kind of art and that what I’m trying to bring doesn’t really fit into that. Those small groups tend to stick to themselves, so I think as much as you can put your ideas out there, there are people that you won’t reach because they don’t want to know about it.
MALLORY: So really, you’re actively trying to create something that isn’t contained in that way.
LAURA: Yeah, I don’t want it to be like “If you’re not this kind of artist or you don’t make this kind of art you can’t be a part of it” - I want it to be inclusive. I’m not really that phased by not interacting with the very exclusive art groups of Adelaide, because I want Girl Space to be bigger than that.
VICTORIA: And I think by making it inclusive… It has to spread, you know, that vibe has to spread to encourage everyone to contribute, otherwise we’re never going to move forward.
Source: Girl Space
MALLORY: So it works for the community and it works for you. Being inclusive is a better paradigm. I don’t know if you’ve experienced the art scenes in other cities, but is there anything particular about Adelaide as a place that has affected your experiences in running these projects?
LAURA: I feel like because Adelaide is smaller and there’s less stuff going on, people are happier to jump into things because they’re new, it’s something to do. But then I also think being small can be a disadvantage because people are sometimes closed-minded. Lots of people also have the idea in their mind that “Adelaide has no art-scene” so they don’t look for it. But I think there is a huge community that does actively look for new projects that are coming up.
VICTORIA: Yeah, I think it’s changing that mindset of people here. The first people to knock Adelaide are Adelaidians. You have people coming from other countries or other cities that say “Adelaide’s a great place”. The size of Adelaide is an advantage because a new event will spread quickly if you’re getting into the right circles of people who want to try new things.
LAURA: I think a lot of people are quick to graduate and go interstate, but the best place to start change is at home. So why not start something in Adelaide where it’s accessible and easy to start something and try and change what’s going on here before taking it wider?
VICTORIA: I know this project was easier to start here because of the size of the city, and it probably has a bigger impact than it would have in Sydney or Melbourne because there’s so much else happening there.
LAURA: Our projects would probably get lost amongst everything else that’s going on.
VICTORIA: But if we do have these projects, and have everyone trying these new things, it creates a buzz and does amazing things for the city because it’s small. You only need to see the impact of the festival season in Adelaide. You can’t beat that vibe.
MALLORY: I love that you see the size and culture of Adelaide as an opportunity, whereas a lot of people do see it for what it lacks.
LAURA: I think we’re catching up to the big cities and giving them a run for their money.
VICTORIA: And if we’re encouraging all communities to have a go… I’ve seen concepts that some of the people involved in this project have, and they’re amazing. They deserve more recognition and I think eventually they’ll get there, but we as a community need to make sure that they’re getting a platform and we’re giving them that attention to grow and support to succeed.
LAURA: It’s important to get people out of the house outside of The Fringe season, because so many people are so into the arts scene when it’s Fringe time, but they don’t attend anything for the rest of the year. So if we can keep up really cool events during the rest of the year then when Fringe time comes around they’ll be even more into it.
Girl Space has an upcoming exhibition in partnership with Fran Festival opening at The Mill on September 8 and going until September 27. For more information, please click here.