‘HYSTERICAL’ Exhibition Celebrates Art As Activism By Women & Marginalised Genders

Photographer and founder of Cheer Up Luv, Eliza Hatch, and illustrator Bee Illustrates have co-created the exhibition and event line-up to amplify marginalised artists and highlight the importance of art as a tool for social change.

When was the last time someone labelled you hysterical? Or perhaps ‘overly-dramatic’ or even ‘attention seeking’? For photographer Eliza Hatch and illustrator Bee Illustrates, this has become an all-too-familiar response to their advocacy work. “​​The experience of being labelled melodramatic, hysterical, or overly emotional when talking about issues we face is one that is almost universal amongst those of us who are women or other marginalised genders,” says Bee.

The creative duo followed and admired each other’s work online for years, having both utilised Instagram to share their creative endeavours. For Eliza, this was her photo series and online safe-space Cheer Up Luv, documenting women and people of marginalised genders in the spaces where they’d previously been sexually assaulted. “Along with being called ‘dramatic’ or ‘attention-seeking’ or being told your lived experience is ‘not that bad’, there are so many ways the sexist hysterical trope crops up today,” she explains. “When I started Cheer Up Luv, a photo series that documents stories of sexual harassment, I was criticised for highlighting stories that many deem to be ‘not a big deal’. It’s a common form of gaslighting that’s used to slow progress, and it’s a response I’m keen to disrupt.”

Meanwhile, Bee began posting their artwork online around the same time, discussing and sharing thoughts on identity, mental health and queer culture through their uplifting artwork. However, it would be another four years before the pair met IRL. “In October last year, we met for the first time at a mutual friend’s event. Within the first five minutes, the idea of Hysterical was born!” Bee says enthusiastically. “From the outset, we felt that due to the outspoken nature of both of our work, any exhibition we were to put on would, by default, be centred around advocacy and art as a tool of dissent.”

“We started with the idea of a group show and it grew organically from there,” Eliza adds. “We felt passionate about showcasing creatives who are using art for activism as it’s something we both regularly engage in ourselves yet barely see in a gallery context.” 

We thought “Hysterical” would be an appropriate exhibition title for Women’s History Month, as wanted to reclaim a word that has traditionally been used as a trope to silence and oppress marginalised folk. 

Eliza Hatch

The exhibition, held at no format Gallery, Deptford, will bring together creatives from multiple disciplines whose work focuses on issues such as identity, race, sexual harassment, gender, politics and more, including visual artist Alice Skinner, director Florence Winter Hill, photographer Alia Romagnoli, painter Linnet Panashe Rubaya, ceramicist Molly Piper Greaves, artist Josie Devine, tufting maker Florence Poppy Deary and many, many more. 

As part of the event line-up, the gallery will also play host to a panel discussion with activist and artist Gina Martin, anti-racism activist Maxine Williams, and our own BRICKS Politics Editor, Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin, while Grrrl Zine Fair will be hosting a Feminist Zine Workshop.

“Ultimately, we both hope that everyone who walks through the doors feels safe, welcomed and represented in our exhibition,” says Bee. “We want Hysterical to be an event that facilitates a safe space for people to hang out, enjoy some art, and engage in events that leave people feeling galvanised and inspired to set the wheels in motion to be the change they want to see in the world.”

Eliza adds:  “I hope that when people come to see Hysterical, they recognise the importance of art as a tool for social change, and also notice the need for more creative opportunities for up and coming artists.” 

In addition, the exhibition is supporting UN Women UK and Mermaids, raising funds for vital services supporting vulnerable women and people of marginalised genders by donating 100% of ticket sales from the panel and workshop plus 20% of sales from the artists’ work during the exhibition.

During the duo’s planning process, they’d applied for Arts Council funding to support the exhibition’s production costs. Their application was denied, but the pair felt passionate to persevere with the exhibition to support the artists and their chosen charities. However, they are keen to pay the exhibition collaborative for their time, so have created a fundraiser which you can support here.

“Women and marginalised folk are still told daily to take up less space, be smaller and shrink themselves into what’s socially acceptable,” says Eliza. “This is why we wanted to create a community-focused show that brings marginalised communities together who don’t get usually get to take up space unchallenged.”

Hysterical exhibition is free to attend from March 24 2022 to April 3 2022 at no format Gallery, Casting House, Moulding Lane, Deptford, SE14 6BN.

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