In late 1996 and early 1997 another eight women were diagnosed with breast cancer just some of the 10,000 diagnosed in Australia each year. These eight women met during a clinical trial looking at the effect of psychological interventions for women diagnosed with early breast cancer. As the trial neared its completion, several of them started to explore their growing desire and commitment to doing something more.
They were painfully aware of the impact of breast cancer on all aspects of their lives, not just the surgery and adjuvant therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation, but also the psychological, emotional, sexual, social and financial impact on their lives. They wanted to heighten community awareness of the powerful effects of this dreadful disease. They also wanted to provide an opportunity to other women like themselves to articulate their experiences, visually or through the written word in a way that was accessible to the broader community. The women enlisted the support of community artists (including those who had experienced breast cancer), health workers and other women who had experienced breast cancer. So began the process, which evolved into the Warrior Women Exhibition.
Women of all ages, cultural and social backgrounds collaborated with women artists to develop this significant exhibition. The collaborations took place over a two-year period and resulted in over 100 pieces of art including: videos, projections, audio recordings, slides, photographs, digital designs and writing. The exhibition was developed with funding from the Australia Council for the Arts, the Sidney Myer Fund and the Besen Family Foundation.
Warrior Women is a excellent example of artistic collaboration. The women artists were, for the most part, the technicians who enabled the women to find a voice, to give expression, using a range of media, to powerful images and feelings locked away inside their heads and their hearts. The women participants were in fact the real artists. It was they who drove the process with their ideas, their courage and their determination. Warrior Women is a tribute to the courage of so many women who were prepared to revisit their experiences of breast cancer.
Warrior Women Tour
The artwork was first exhibited in Span Galleries in Melbourne, Australia in Feb 2001. The exhibition received extremely positive reviews and feedback. Phillipa Hawker of the Age wrote:
“ the Exhibition was eloquent and moving and provided a terrific example of collaboration between artists and members of the community”
Following the initial exhibition Warrior Women was funded to tour Victoria by BreastCare Victoria. The tour covered eight separate locations over a period of ten months. During this period over 14,500 people saw the exhibition. At each location a program of associated events was run in conjunction with the exhibition. These events included writing workshops funded by the Breast Cancer Network and information sessions and activity days funded through the Besen Family Foundation.
The Warrior Women artworks, videos and writing have recently been redeveloped into a book and an interactive CD-ROM. The CD ROM Project was funded by the Australia Council for the Arts. The CD ROM features the exhibition art work , women's stories, the project history, interviews with artists and information about the rights of women who are experiencing breast cancer etc. The art contained on the CD ROM is presented in four parts - Diagnosis, Impact, Intervention and Support. Each of these sections features the work of women exploring these themes. The CD is packaged in a booklet which features black and white photos and further writing created by women who have experienced breast cancer.
The Warrior Women Project was funded by the Australia Council for the Arts through the Community Cultural Development Fund. The community cultural development process created for the project enabled women, from different backgrounds and nationalities, to work in close collaboration with mixed media artists to explore creatively their experiences with breast cancer.
The creative process, is one, which is easily adapted for use by other community groups. It begins by bringing small groups together in a one-day workshop. The workshop enables individuals to share journeys and experiences, meet with the project artists and take part in a writing session facilitated by an experienced writer.
We found that the writing sessions were often a critical element in the creation of visual images. This was not without its difficulties. Many women were at first unconfident and very resistant to the idea of writing anything – but, once a writing facilitator got them going, the pens just flew. Women who had never really talked about their experiences suddenly found a voice. These sessions produced not just some of the amazing pieces of writing in the exhibition, but acted as a springboard to the creation of powerful visual imagery. The workshops also provided the opportunity for women to meet and share their common experiences of a disease, which knows no boundaries.
Towards the end of the one day workshop the women discussed ideas for images and media with the project artists. They were then matched with an artist who worked in the media they wished to explore. This was a strongly collaborative phase of the project during which the artists would meet with the women to discuss further the concepts, feelings, ideas and imagery.
The level of involvement and collaboration varied from woman to woman. Some women met with the artist and were then guided by the artist's interpretation of the concepts discussed. Others took very hands on approach and had clear ideas of the imagery they wished the artist to produce.
An important aspect of the project was the involvement of the project artists from the very beginning of the process through to the final outcomes. The close collaborations that developed between the artists and the women fostered a wonderful sense of joint ownership for the artwork, which was produced.
The success of the creative process reflected in the quality of the final artwork was empowering for the women involved. They seized the opportunity to take control and express, explore and speak out about their experiences through the powerful medium of art.
|Warrior Women Tour Poster|