“We Are Family”.Curated by C. Moore Hardy (1 March – 18 May 2014) Australian Centre for Photography (ACP). Artists: Deborah Kelly/ Waded/ r e a/ The Twilight Girls/ Michele Aboud/ Annie Magdalena Laerkesen.
WE ARE FAMILY – Merryn Stanger
Families come in all shapes and sizes. The ideal nuclear family has become outdated, and diverse family models are becoming increasingly accepted in contemporary society. Yet there is still an absence of mainstream representation of alternative families. C. Moore Hardy’s exhibition “We Are Family” presents multiple forms of love and belonging as seen through the eyes of seven female Australian artists. In “We Are Family”, the audience is invited to consider the political, sexual and religious prejudices about families that are reinforced by mainstream society.
Moore Hardy began photographing Sydney’s gay and lesbian communities in the early 1990s. As a curator she continues to explore gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (GLBTIQ) communities from an intimate perspective. It is through this lens that Moore Hardy and the artists present astoundingly personal interpretations of family.
In Deborah Kelly’s The Miracles, 2012, thirty-seven framed portraits depict a range of couples –same and opposite sex, transgender – and single parents posed with their children in staged photographs reminiscent of Renaissance religious iconography. Here Kelly critiques the backlash against families that use assisted reproductive technologies, as well as the way religions have created and controlled the concept of the family in order to maintain their own dominance and authority throughout history.
The bright and playful self-portraits of Waded and Michele Aboud explore the family portrait. In a testament to positive social change, Aboud highlights three mothers’ unconditional love of their gay and lesbian children, a far cry from the stigma and denial of past generations. A visually moving series, the strength of the images is lost within this exhibition due to its visual and physical proximity to r e a’s portraits, which detracts from the effectiveness of both.
This constant repetition of staged portraits is the central failing of “We Are Family”. While each artist explores a different aspect of family, the repetitive aesthetic becomes stale. Notably, Annie Magdalena Laerkesen’s invasive Scissus, 2013, a visual exploration of her experience of giving birth by caesarean section, provides an interesting juxtaposition to Waded’s family portraits. Furthermore, The Twilight Girls’ grotesque reworking of the mythological Lillith in Consider Her Ways, 2014, expands the boundaries of the exhibition by exploring ideas of the deviant female and female sexuality as conflicting with the mainstream ideal of women. However, the work appears completely out of place within the exhibition due to the starkly obscure aesthetic of the artwork.
“We Are Family” presents notions of family that stray from the heterosexual norm reinforced by the dominant Western culture. The works are both playful and heartfelt. However, the unexciting repetition of portraits is hard to overcome. The natural feel of Moore Hardy’s own photographs is missing in this exhibition. Nevertheless, as a celebration of the changing socio-cultural climate, “We Are Family” is moving in its intimate portrayal of the artists’ families.
WE ARE FAMILY -Alexis Tay
A photographic exhibition capturing families from gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (GLBTIQ) contexts? Now this is a must see. “We Are Family” proudly displays the works of seven female artists: Michele Aboud, Deborah Kelly, Annie Magdalena Laerkesen, r e a, The Twilight Girls and Waded. Photographer C. Moore Hardy, whose works have documented the gay and lesbian community since the 1990s, is the curator. The exhibition challenges society’s definition of family by exploring families with GLBTIQ backgrounds.
As part of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras official 2014 program, the images in “We Are Family” contrast with the wildly sexual and flamboyant images usually associated with the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. Although Waded’s neon-tube installation, Love, is initially colourful and flashy, it is softened by warm, gentle portraits of modest-looking human subjects. Next to Love, three pieces by the same artist show her partner Ren and their donor-conceived daughter Gracie in moments of laughter and joy. Similarly, three untitled works by Michele Aboud capture gay and lesbian adults with their mothers. Together, these families project the positive fighting spirit that has helped them to triumph despite years of battling anti-gay discrimination, hate and violence.
Also showing this powerful bond between parents and children is Annie Magdalena Laerkesen’s Scissus. Although different from the portrait style, the work shows the familial ties that still exist after the child is separated by birth from their mother.
However, a look at other works soon changes the friendly, light-hearted mood to one of seriousness, confrontation and mockery. Deborah Kelly’s The Miracles is a provocative work that engages with religious and ethical debates. The work is a constellation of 37 photomontage portraits depicting same and opposite-sex couples, transgender, single and multigenerational families whose children have been conceived through assisted reproductive technologies (ART). The composition and the clothing of the subjects imitate renaissance paintings of the Holy Family – Virgin Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. The “sinners” and their artificially conceived children are now holy and precious.
r e a’s works, DTDFJ and FDJTD, also explore religious aspects of the debate by appropriating da Vinci’s Last Supper. Five men (formerly women) sit side by side at a long black table with items such as eggs, lilies and tinsel scattered before them. As the wall caption explains, the works aim to “open up a dialogue about family based on notions of gender and identity”. These works also serve as a reminder of the on-going debate around the legalization of same-sex marriage in Australia.
The only fault of the exhibition is the choice of the work Consider Her Ways by The Twilight Girls. The work depicts a monstrous multi-headed female creature with numerous breasts and bottoms emerging from a sea of tar. Although humorous, the appearance and theme of this gigantic and horrifying feminist work disrupt and confuse the narrative of the overall exhibition. But despite this, “We Are Family” is an admirable exhibition that makes a promising step in addressing misconceptions and ill feelings towards GLBTIQ families.