Skeletons and Self-Portraits: Emily Dash challenges representations of gender and disability
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Skeletons and Self-Portraits: Emily Dash challenges representations of gender and disability

Stories/127 , Issues/Women , Issues/Arts & Culture , Issues/Disability
PACT, Erskineville NSW 2043, Australia
23rd Aug 2017
Skeletons and Self-Portraits: Emily Dash challenges representations of gender and disability
Creative and disability advocate Emily Dash tackles the themes of identity and public perception in PACT Salon 2: Skeletons and Self-Portraits

Emily Dash is a creative who cannot be easily pinned to any one title – an artist, actor, writer, speaker and disability advocate who has also dabbled in filmmaking, she takes being a “slashie” to another level.

In her latest collaborative effort, she wears the hat of curator for the second event in the PACT Salon series, PACT Salon 2: Skeletons and Self-Portraits.

The series aims to explore how one’s perception of them self often differs from the views of others. Emily has assembled a diverse group of artists who will tackle ideas of identity and public perception through performance, installation, exhibition and live music at an immersive mini-festival.

I caught up with Emily ahead of Skeletons and Self-Portraits to find out about what inspired this theme, and how she and the artists she has selected plan to explore it.

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Pictured: Emily Dash

“Particularly as a female artist with a disability I’ve realised that our perceptions of self can differ greatly from the way that others see us, and so I asked a bunch of artists to come and support me and create an event around that,” Emily explained.

“I was really keen to have a female-led event…all my artists are female and that definitely plays into a lot of the work that they’re doing and I feel that’s really important…I really wanted to give a platform for female artists to express themselves.”

The need to create space for female artists is not un-founded. The CoUNTless Report, released in 2016, revealed the existing extent of gender imbalance across the scope of contemporary arts in Australia. Drawing on statistical data from the nation’s state and publicly funded museums, galleries, the commercial gallery sector, leading contemporary art spaces and artist run initiatives – the report uncovered glaring inequalities in the representation and opportunities offered to artists who are women.

PACT is one organisation that seeks to give a platform to under-represented artists. This is achieved by placing artists in the first five years of their practice at the centre of everything they do, and prioritising diversity, inclusion and an open door approach to their programming.

“Somewhere like PACT Centre for Emerging Artists is really good at pushing the boundaries and putting on events that are a bit edgy and out of the norm in wonderful ways, so I’m happy to be a part of that mission and I know that they have a long history of supporting female artists…my event is part of that.”

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Photographer: Carla Zimbler

With her turn as curator for PACT Salon, Emily is choosing to showcase artists who inspire her personally, many of whom are not only women but are also part of demographics that are not as widely represented in more mainstream and traditional contemporary art spaces – albeit in ways that are not tokenistic.

Performance is the chosen vehicle for many of the artists involved in Skeletons & Self-Portraits. Kay Armstrong will be performing a movement-based piece around the concept of ‘why I can’t be famous’ – “as an older female artist it’s a sort of a tongue in cheek comment on the industry…and how it looks at age and gender.”

Cheryn Frost is a young Indigenous artist who will be doing a performance around the theme of ‘skeletons in my closet’ – “looking at the secrets that people keep and what people want to keep hidden.”

Emerging artist Brie Harris, so fresh she’s completing her HSC this year, will also be presenting a performance piece, based around the ideals of female beauty and physicality – “I was really excited to be able to give her a platform to develop herself as an artist and she’s come up with a really brilliant concept.”

Dash has selected artists that are not only expressing experiences very unique to themselves, but that speak to the vast majority of people that may or may not see their struggles and experiences reflected or expressed.

One artist engaging with this theme head-on is Louise Kate Anderson, who identifies as having an invisible disability. “She’ll be doing a durational installation around the artist letting the audience into her studio and asking her whatever questions they like around mental health and invisible disability, or really just anything they’d like, in order to break down stigma… I think that’s a real engagement with the theme.”

“I think for me the purpose of art is not only to reveal our own truths, but to do it in a way that helps others find something in theirs. So I think this [Skeletons and Self-Portraits] is a manifestation of that,” said Emily.

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Photographer: Carla Zimbler

Emily makes no secret of the fact that her decisions regarding the artists she is drawn to work with are influenced by her own experiences in the art world. Artists with disability are greatly underrepresented in mainstream arts spaces. However, she is seeing change for the better is happening; change that she is benefitting from and paying forward:

“I think as an artist with a disability, and I’ve spoken to a couple of my colleagues about this as well, I think that it’s a really exciting time to be in the industry because diversity is starting to get talked about and discussed [more widely] and that’s starting to have a real flow-on effect. I’ve been lucky to be given so many opportunities lately and I really feel privileged to be a part of the conversation around diversity in the industry at the moment.”

This palatable sense of hope and inclusion feeds through to the programming of Skeletons and Self-Portraits.

“I really want people to have an incredible night first off, but also find themselves challenged by some of the artworks that they see and really engage with the perspectives of the artists.”

Emily’s vision for PACT Salon 2: Skeletons and Self-Portraits is that “people can get something to eat, have a drink, chat to some people, and enjoy some really amazing artwork.” Oh, and it will also be a masquerade! Guests are invited to explore ideas around identity by wearing a mask, or making their own at the event.

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