HE SHE THEY: Gender diversity encourages inclusion at Bunbury Biennale

ANNETTE PETERSON

Curator Caroline Lunel awaits guests at the Bunbury Biennale. 

Bunbury Regional Art Galleries is celebrating its first-ever themed Bunbury Biennale: HE SHE THEY. The exhibition features works by 37 Western Australian contemporary artists, selected to consider gender and what it means to them in their art practice. Unified through photography, painting, sculpture, film, and performance, the exhibition displays diverse ideas investigating gender, identity, sexuality, and male, female, or more fluid perspectives.
 
Caroline Lunel discusses her role as Curator, and how, for the first time since the Biennale’s 1993 inception, she has taken a new direction by adopting a theme. The Biennale was initially created to increase the City of Bunbury’s Art Collection. After curating the show five times over ten years, Lunel felt that she was ready for a new challenge to present a more cohesive exhibition. “We have an extensive exhibition schedule each year and a wide range of works in the collection for public access. Having a body of work addressing a particular theme makes for more interesting exhibitions,” she says.
 
Lunel says the topic of gender was carefully contemplated. “Considering it is a hot topic in the arts nationally and internationally, to use it as a theme is timely,” she quips. “There is still so much to be explored on many levels.” She added it was appropriate to call the exhibition HE SHE THEY, given the coincidence of the opening date with International Women’s day and the Sydney Mardi Gras. 
 
Artists were personally invited to be part of the Biennale to ensure an inclusive representation of gender backgrounds, such as cis-gender, queer and non-binary or gender fluid. Lunel says she was satisfied with the selection of artists exploring the gender theme using various media, including performance art. “There is a wonderful richness in subject matter,” she observes, “but also a beautiful vulnerability and personal expression in some of the works which isn’t always present in other exhibitions.”
 
Vital to the success of the exhibition was providing a safe environment for artists to address the topic and to be able to express themselves freely. “As we are still learning and discovering about who we are, HE SHE THEY presents a beautiful celebration of humanity and freedom of expression,” says Lunel. The outcome, is a wide variety of interpretations of the theme, from exploring the ambiguity of gender identity and fluidity; to honouring feminism articulated through visual, tactile and written forms. Lunel notes other artworks question stereotypes and gender conformity, investigate archetypes, the positioning of gender, gender in nature, and the consequence of cultural conditioning. Some art dives even deeper into the analysis and decoding of gender philosophy and psychology.
 
Lunel says she was aware many artists felt challenged by the theme but affirms that all delivered beautiful and unique art. When asked which of the artworks stood out to her personally, Lunel said it was Stuart Elliott’s works which touched her most deeply. “It was not surprising,” she clarifies, “His interpretation is broad, in-depth, intelligent, articulate, very witty and very funny, but also exquisitely executed.”
 
Lunel said the acquisitive artworks chosen for the City of Bunbury Art collection correlated to how well the artists addressed the theme and how well the artworks diversify and complement the existing collection. A total of nine artists had works acquired by the City of Bunbury’s Art Collection: Susan Starcken, Andrew Nicholls, Stuart Elliott, Janet Carter, Nathan Beard, Tania Ferrier, Christophe Canato, Sam Huxtable and Carla Adams.
 
When asked why Bunbury was the first regional city to embrace such subject matter, Lunel says it is because they were brave and bold. “We are a regional gallery committed to presenting exciting and inspiring exhibitions to the South-West,” Lunel says. HE SHE THEY extends to a broad audience and ensures the show has content resonating with everyone. Yet, she says, the gallery’s role is to engage, stimulate and encourage new ways of thinking and perceiving the contemporary world. She admits the exhibition will challenge the audience and generate discussion. “Biennale events are generally known to present provocative and controversial exhibitions.”
 
Not surprisingly, Lunel says the exhibition reaches out not only visually but emotionally. “I hope these works may touch people a little deeper and provide a sense of excitement to be alive at this age in time,” she declares. “Art is such an accessible way to build community and provide a sense of belonging and place-making. I do hope it will encourage especially the local South West LGBTQIA community to come and view the exhibition.”
 
Given HE SHE THEY’s success, the question remains, would Lunel and the team choose this theme again for the next Biennale in 2023? Lunel says that they already know what that could be, but they were not giving that away just yet…
 
The show continues until June 6, with ongoing artist workshops, Curator tours and artist talks.

Anima #2, 2020, digital image, archival inkjet image on fine art paper (Ed/5) by Christophe Canato.

Domestic Scene (Bed) 2021, oil on canvas, 100 x 170 cm By Dan Gladden.

Photos Annette Peterson. 

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