Local Artist Sarah McEwan about the art of celebrating regional women
By Sarah McEwan, Sandigo
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.
On Sunday 10 August 2010, my husband Vic and I closed the roller door of our Marrickville home for the very last time. We can still remember that feeling as we drove off into the early morning light—one of total terror thinking, ‘what have we done!’
We had spent our adult lives living in the inner-west of Sydney where we had a concrete block warehouse with a cement floor where we held gigs and exhibitions in our ‘illegal’ underground warehouse/home called the Cad Factory. We were part of a vibrant, warm and generous community of musicians and artists. Together, we all shaped a rich and energetic underground culture.
Our new home we were driving towards was six hours from Sydney down the Hume Highway, 30 km from Narrandera, in a place called Birrego, surrounded by dry inland cropping and thousands of sheep and cattle. Our falling down one-room school house built in 1886 had no running water, a bathroom with a hessian sack for a wall and possums living openly in the main school room. Being five months pregnant at the time of moving meant we had a lot of work to do before we could comfortably live with a baby.
In hindsight, our naivety served us well. If we had knowingly known what was in store for us in repairing and renovating the school house, plus building a beautiful world-class recording studio, there’s no way we would have willingly taken such a risk!
We stumbled, scrounged, questioned and finally, eight years later, we have spent the last few years enjoying our dream set up. I often think to myself it really is amazing what two people can do together when they share a similar vision.
Our rural move was because we wanted a new adventure and to have more space for creating artworks and supporting creative practices. We wanted a house and studio space to live and work in, and a place where visiting artists and musicians could work too. This third Cad Factory space we live in now is much more ‘grown up’ than our earlier years. When we started in 2004, above a pizza supply shop in Marrickville, we held all night gigs. Now, we are a not-for-profit artist led organisation creating an international program of new, immersive and experimental work guided by authentic exchanges, ethical principles, people and place.
Our rural move has changed us deeply—I would say for the better. The vast open skies of the Riverina has given us opportunities beyond what we thought was ever possible. Our arts practice has become more rigorous, engaged and ambitious.
For the last year, I have been fortunate enough to have received a Create NSW Regional Fellowship that allowed me to travel to Duke University in North Carolina and the Women’s Centre for Creative Work in Los Angeles to research for new exhibitions.
Part of this research culminated in an exhibition at Western Plains Cultural Centre in Dubbo called Unbind Me, that opened on 30 June and closed on 2 September, with more than 10 000 people viewing it.
The exhibition was creating feminist time travel beginning with Hesiod (c700BCE) in the Iron Age and running through to contemporary artist ‘Truth Tellers’ who face complex and competing ideologies. In making artworks about key philosophers, poets, authors, historians, economists, activists and artists who have contributed to the world over the past 2700 years, you can see a clear narrative of the historical limitations placed on women from all aspects of life including; philosophy, science, religion and education. You can also see how much has changed and been achieved since the Iron Age.
I still find it unfathomable to believe that 2500 years ago Plato started his Academy to foster philosophical education, but it wasn’t until 1881 that the first woman, Bella Geurin, completed a Bachelor of Arts at Melbourne University! The education gap widens for Indigenous women with Margaret Valadian being the first Indigenous woman to complete a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Queensland in 1967.
During my eight years of living regionally, I have witnessed the drive of rural women to actively change the practical, social and emotional experience of regional life—for themselves, for their families, for their friends and for their communities. I see this in events like the NSW Rural Women’s Gatherings that Narrandera was lucky enough to host in 2017, publications like The Country Web and Graziher, along with the Hidden Treasure Honour Roll and so many other groups and committees. I see this with my friends and the way they care, with such love, for other people.
These kinds of activities inspire me in my creative practice. I hope that in my very own small way, I can build on the work of these trailblazing rural Australian women who have come before me and who work alongside me.
Local Sandigo Artist Sarah McEwan from the Cad Factory is currently working on her upcoming exhibition ‘Feelings from Bodies’ . The exhibition brings together the voices of 50 anonymous survey participants who were asked what makes them feel hopeful, fearful, think of change, destruction and feminism. All of these intimate answers inform and create this artwork which will be exhibited from 9th February to 31st March 2019 at the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery.