At The Global Women's Project we know that we wouldn’t be here doing what we do without the women who fought for our rights and who showed immense resilience and courage in the face of adversity and injustice.
We also know that there are women, the world over, who are continuing that fight - and it’s these women, the women we work with in Cambodia and Nepal, who will benefit from the funds we raise throughout this exhibition.
Besides raising funds (our goal is to raise $60,000 to support women leading change) it has been our intention to create a platform for women’s stories to be seen, heard and shared; to honour women’s unique and varied experiences; to acknowledge not just history, but herstory.
In addition to the stories of the trailblazing women whose faces feature in our artworks, many of our artists are themselves trailblazing women, with their own stories to tell.
We feel honoured to include works by four such artists in our exhibition, each members of Melbourne Art for Asylum Seekers (MAFA). MAFA is a nonprofit organisation that supports artists and art students from refugee, migrant and asylum seeker backgrounds to meet, collaborate and teach each other. Their vision: to create a community from a shared love of free artistic expression and to create a kinder world.
With only a couple of days until we launch at a gala event on Friday the 25th of November (get your tickets here) we want to introduce you to these four women and to tell you a bit about their unique, but all too familiar, stories - in addition to a love for art, each of these courageous women share the unimaginable challenges associated with migrating to or seeking asylum in Australia, and spending time in detention.
Azizeh Astaneh is an artist, former art critic and refugee who currently lives in Melbourne. She is the Founding President of Melbourne Artists For Asylum Seekers (MAFA) and, since 2014, she has curated four art exhibitions featuring works by people seeking asylum, both detained and community-based.
Originally from Iran, Astaneh spent over four years at university as the only woman in her class to graduate with a degree. She came to Australia as a refugee and spent time in detention centres on Christmas Island and on the outskirts of Melbourne. Thanks to the art volunteers who came to visit the centre, she tells us, a door opened for her and she stepped into the boundless world of an artist.
“My portrait is of Iranian educator, poet and pioneer of education for women in Iran, Beigom Sultan Ghiasi (1921-1999). She was also my great-grandmother, my role model and someone whom I greatly admired. At the bottom right of my piece there is a Persian poem that was written for my great-grandmother by her daughter (my grandmother). I have painted it in my mother's handwriting so that this piece represents four generations of women in my family.”
Leila Ashtiani was an artist for many years and ran a contemporary art gallery in her native Iran. As someone from the minority Zoroastrian faith, her family was persecuted, leaving them with little choice but to seek freedom in another land. They all left for Australia in 2013 and the boat they were on from Indonesia was massively overloaded with over 200 people on board. It capsized just off the Indonesian shore.
Ashtiani recalls tying “my baby to my stomach with a scarf and kept him above water, while my husband took a floating tyre and tried to help other people. 80 people died – we were very lucky.” Her experience seeking asylum has undoubtedly influenced the woman she has chosen to portray for this exhibition: Artemis, a young woman from a noble family who joined the Persian Navy. When she was released from community detention a couple of years ago, Ashtiani volunteered to go back and teach art classes at the Melbourne detention centre where she connected with other refugees and artists, and helped form MAFA.
Born in Bandung, Indonesia, Tri Setyani moved to Australia ten years ago. She started visiting detention centres in Melbourne a few years ago and it quickly became a weekly activity. Having worked full-time as an engineer, she never quite found the time to pursue her passion for art. Indeed it was meeting people in detention that brought her art back to life. As part of MAFA, Setyani began to take a sketchbook to her weekly visits and draw the stories of the people she met. As an artist, she likes to work mainly with watercolour and acrylic. She sees art as a great medium for people in detention to express themselves and to bring their stories out into the open. Their journeys, their resilience and their courage inspires her and makes her appreciate the little things that are often taken for granted. She is now the Secretary of MAFA and has created a portrait of Kartini for this exhibition.
Kartini, born in 1878, was a pioneer in the area of education for the rights of women and girls in Indonesia. As a migrant, Setyani says that she always tried to imagine how it would feel to be Kartini. Despite not having access to education after age 12, this trailblazing woman continued to educate herself and sought out many influential contacts who helped her establish a school for women. She died so young, at the age of 25, yet her impact was enormous, according to Setyani.
Zohreh Izadikia is originally from Tehran, Iran, and arrived in Australia by boat in 2013. After presenting an exhibition in Iran on the female nude, which infuriated government officials, she was forced to flee the country for fear of persecution. She chose to depict Burmese statesperson, politician, diplomat and author, Aung San Suu Kyi for this exhibition, because of the courage she showed and personal sacrifices she made in the struggle against Burma's military regime.
“Being an artist in Iran was often dangerous for me, as I wanted to work outside the parameters set by the Government. This, combined with my choice not to wear the hijab, caused many problems for me. When I came to Australia, I was in detention for 18 months where I painted murals on the centre’s walls. This helped to pass the time and keep me happy.”
For Izadikia, painting is a way to tell the story of her journey, the experiences she has had, and the people she has met along the way. Painting makes me feel great. It is everything for me.
To learn more about MAFA, please visit: http://artistsforasylumseekers.org/contact/
We encourage you to come and view these powerful works in person at our exhibition at Neospace from 25 November - 10 December. For the full rundown including opening hours, click here.
Trailblazing Women of Herstory is a fundraising art exhibition in support of The Global Women's Project. Thirty-nine award-winning and emerging artists have created original portraits of trailblazing women, to be exhibited, sold and auctioned during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence at Neospace Gallery in Collingwood, Melbourne. Proceeds from sale of art go towards The Global Women's Project's work, supporting women to determine their own lives in Cambodia and Nepal, as well as exhibiting artists.
We can't wait to see you at the exhibition, helping to strengthen the ability of women the world over to determine their own lives through The Global Women's Project.
Only 2 days to go!
PS. Did you know all donations to The Global Women's Project are fully tax deductible? You can donate by clicking here. You can also make sure you stay across everything by signing up to our mailing list, liking us on Facebook and keeping your eye on this blog.