The Exhibitionists celebrate women in the arts

March 24, 2022

The Exhibitionists is a short film created by Northern Pictures, in collaboration with the National Gallery of Australia. A celebration of women in the arts, as well as a reminder of the obstacles female artists have faced in Australian history, the film debuted on ABC TV on International Women’s Day (8 March).

The 60-minute docu-comedy follows four friends who dare to hide in the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) until doors close, to become locked in overnight. They become outraged after learning that only 25% of the art collection is created by women. Raiding the vaults, they uncover forgotten works of art and scandalous tales of sexism.

Part documentary, the film features interviews with experts in the Australian art industry who speak about the women that broke boundaries and made history; making as much, if not more of an impact than their male counterparts but have not necessarily received the same accolades.

The film highlights the female pioneers of Australian art history,  beginning with impressionist Jane Sutherland and her focus of females in her landscapes, a subject that was not popular amongst male artists of the day. It then explores Janet Dawson’s abstract works, cubist Dorrit Black, the contemporary work of Julie Rrap, among honourable mentions of Nora Heysen, Sarah Lucas, Grace Cossington-Smith and many more.

The film is in support of the NGA’s Know My Name initiative, which promotes female Australian artists through exhibitions, commissions, collaborations, and education. The critically acclaimed exhibition of the same name showcasing Australia’s finest art by women spanning from 1900 to now, is showing at the NGA until 9 May.

An exciting project for all involved, the Copyright Agency worked with the NGA and Northern Pictures to license over 65 of the artworks which feature in the film. We were able to assist in licensing the amazing work female artists in Australia have produced for generations, featuring some of the greats both past and present; Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Vivienne Binns and Cressida Campbell to name a few.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Seeds of Abundance © Emily Kame Kngwarreye/Copyright Agency.

The outrage the four women feel in the film quickly becomes apparent as they realise how under represented women are in the gallery. Experts in the documentary then bring to light some alarming facts about the vast gender gap in art history, and reasons why we need change. It is revealed women in the arts are largely under looked and underpaid. Statistics show that overall, paintings by women sell for 42% less than paintings by men. A survey in 2019 found that only 2% of the value of the art market is work by women.

While the market for work by women has doubled over the past decade, it is still less than the total sales for Picasso alone. A 2020 study also revealed Australian women artists are paid 30% less than their male counterparts. The documentary aims to expose the cultural bias towards women as artists, and highlight how they challenged sexism, providing inspiration and encouragement to future generations.

Starring Bessie Holland, Bridie Carter, Mandy McElhinney and Veronica Milsom, the film is as comedically entertaining as it is informative; to learn tales of incredible women who deserve far more recognition than what they received in their time.

If you missed The Exhibitionists on International Women’s Day, you can stream it online via ABC’s Iview here.

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