RMIT creative work challenges perspectives where women continue to restrict their own movement through public space due to perceptions of safety.
Melbourne, like many cities around the world, frames its identity through the narratives of a select few, placing bronze sculptures throughout the CBD to celebrate their contribution to the city’s identity.
With the exception of the Great Petition near Parliament House, and the monument currently being planned for the RMIT campus to commemorate Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner – the two Tasmanian Indigenous men hung publically outside the Old Melbourne Gaol, these narratives tend to be those of white European men.
Clare McCracken, PhD student in the School of Art, said that while these state-sanctioned metanarratives are important to a city’s identity, it is the ‘petits récits’, or small narratives of everyday individuals, which give us an insight into the true makeup of place.
“I felt that the lack of female narratives in our cities’ public spaces contribute to women’s lack of comfort in such locales, as it appears as if they belong to men, as if women have not helped to build this city”, she said.
“My I Was Here project proposes to momentarily change this by creating guerrilla monuments to the women of Melbourne by filling certain public spaces with short narratives – the petits récits - of the women that use Melbourne’s public spaces on a daily basis.”
McCracken contributed the creative practice research elements of her project to the A Girl’s Place exhibition at the threeOclock Gallery in Southgate.
The exhibition was supported by Plan International who shared their recent research of Australian girls aged 15-19 years of age on gender equality with McCracken, nine other artists, and the curator of the gallery Kim de Kretser.
Their findings revealed that 30 per cent of young Australian women aged 15-19 report avoiding public places after dark, with approximately 23 per cent believing it is not safe to travel alone on public transport.
“They asked me, and nine other artists, to take this complicated and challenging data to create works that engage the community in this important conversation.
“As a gender we so often respond by subconsciously moderating our behaviour and ‘just getting on with it’.
“By disengaging and avoiding the city at certain times we limit our contribution and access to the city, events and discussions in general, perpetuating gender imbalances.
“We all agreed that despite the challenges we face as a gender we are strong and resilient as individuals, and our power to change attitudes comes from our collective voices and our acknowledgment of these perceptions.
“Through the works in this exhibition ten female artists explored where our perceptions of safety come from and reflect upon how this impacts our behaviour, movement and participation, in our cities and public life.
“We talked at length about what spaces engage women and how we could build cities that are more welcoming and supportive spaces for women.
“We tackled the private, the concealed, the stereotypical, the personal, the conditioned and the assumed.
“And together we took back the female narratives of our cities. As female artists we told our own stories publically to encourage a discussion.”
Research supervisor Dr Maggie McCormick said that the research offers an insight into the presence of women in the city, and their incredibly diverse usage of its public spaces.
“Creating inclusive and safe cities for women contributes to long-term economic, social, and institutional change within societies that will benefit all citizens,” she said.
“Safe cities are crucial to achieving gender equality because they will allow the women who live in them to thrive.”
Visit the A Girl’s Place exhibition website.
Story: Petra van Nieuwenhoven