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feminartsy at canberra’s front gallery café: a review

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It was just another icy Friday evening in the cold heart of Canberra. The quiet of Northbourne Avenue indicated that all of the public servants had gone home to hibernate, most likely celebrating the weekend with cups of tea and what I imagine to be an endless supply of snuggies.

I, on the other hand, sought comfort and warmth in the cosy Front Gallery Café in Lyneham, where four women shared their writings, individual experiences, and songs under the theme “Part of their world.” Hosted by online feminist literature and arts journal, Feminartsy, the event brought together three captivating speakers and one charming musician to explore ideas about subcultures, joining new scenes, cultural shifts and migration, just to name a few.

The first speaker was Canberra-based writer and producer Yolande Harris, who shared an excerpt of her writing. Set in 1886 in the Australian outback of Tidbinbilla, Yolande takes an observatory role in the piece, musing over the life and isolation of a female early settler. There was a beautiful sense of silence throughout the piece, which was furthered by the softly spoken Yolande, as she described the quiet beauty of the landscape and explored the position of women in society both then and now.

We were then blessed by performance poet and playwright Tasnim Hossain. Reading off her mobile phone, Tasnim captured aspects of her world through her poetry. The audience listened to Tasnim’s humble beginnings as a poet, what it meant to her to be a young Muslim woman and lastly what Tasnim described as her love poem, a piece I particularly liked, describing how she found love in the tiny space of a green Barina. Tasnim’s performance was engaging and honest, and from the notable laughter and moments of intense silence, it was clear Tasnim’s words had succeeded in warming the crowd.

The final speaker was Helen Keane. A teacher and researcher in the School of Sociology at Australian National University, Helen touched upon the idea of the “feminist killjoy”, a person who points out sexism in any situation and is often seen in social situations asraining on everyone’s parade. Helen described a recent experience where her feminist killjoy self reared its socially unacceptable head: at a Look good Feel Good make-up workshop for women with breast cancer. Recently diagnosed with breast cancer herself, Helen attended the workshop and shared this experience with the audience, from both the perspective of the feminist killjoy and a person living with breast cancer. It was very powerful to hear Helen’s inner conflict of knowing that by participating in the work shop she was perpetuating gender stereotypes (the social responsibility women feel to be beautiful even though they feel awful) yet enjoying meeting other women who wanted in some way to feel good again.

The fourth and final act was a musical performance by Hannah Beasley. Normally part of duo Paint on Paint, Hannah performed solo as the other half of the band Chris Endrey was unable to perform that evening. Standing in front of her keyboard with a stream of lights beaming on her, Hannah’s fingertips glided politely over the keys as the audience let her smooth and creamy voice comfort them like a glass of warm milk. Hannah played songs from Paint on Paint’s newest record (currently in production) and appeared so naturally comfortable under those lights that you would never have guessed it was her second time performing solo and that she was recovering from a cold.

As a venue, The Front Gallery Café spoke to the theme; its intimate space allowed performers and audience members to briefly become a part of their unique, cosy world.

The event was not only an opportunity to showcase some of the best writing and art talent in Canberra but to raise funds for a local charity that, in keeping in line with the ethos of Feminartsy, focusses on women’s rights.

The charity selected was the YWCA Canberra Food Hub, an emergency food relief system that provides free and healthy food to young people and their families in need.

Born in 2014 from a love of all things feminism, creator and director Zoya Patel says that the ‘response [to Feminartsy] has been really great so far, with excellent turn out to the two events we’ve had and steady traffic to the website. We still have a ways to go, but I’m happy with how it’s progressing.’

The event raised $400 and for Zoya, giving back to the community and those who creatively contribute to Feminartsy is a priority. ‘Fifty percent of profits will go to the Food Hub, and fifty percent will go towards paying contributors to Feminartsy, because we care about paying creatives!’

New content, including memoir, essays, fiction, photo essays, and art spreads, is added to the online journal weekly. A new theme is curated each month, creating a mood that ‘celebrates excellent content in all of its forms.’ Upcoming themes are Resolve for August and Movement for September.

The next event will be held at The Front Gallery Café again on 31 July 2014 and is a collaboration with all-girl art collective, Hissy Fit and Indie pop singer Marianne Scholem. If like me, you want something more exciting than a floating tea bag on a Friday night, get into a Feminartsy frame of mind and see where it can take you.

You can check out Feminartsy here and here.

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