The arts revival: led by Laura Gentgall

By Caitlin Tait

“I am stubborn and persistent,” Laura said, carrying the same strength as – while also tipping the hat to – American politician Elizabeth Warren, who only a few months ago was shunned for attempting to speak a letter written by Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s late widow, on the Senate floor in Massachusetts.

Republican Mitch McConnell defended why he stopped Warren from speaking by saying, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

The phrase, “Nevertheless, she persisted” became something akin to a battle cry for feminists worldwide. Women everywhere stood in solidarity with Warren, proving the daily occurrence of how women are mistreated in any space.

Laura Gentgall, an Adelaide artist and curator, is the brains behind the idea Girl Space. Her commitment to creating safe spaces for female-identifying artists has proved worthwhile, as her last exhibition brought in hundreds of people at Hindley Street’s bar, Ancient World.

Putting on a show alongside Culture Club Magazine and Swirl Records, Gentgall curated pieces of art by Isabella Whittaker, Madison Rowe, Carly Kate Harvy, and Eleanor Green, at ‘The People Being The People’ party.

So, what gave the 20 year-old woman from Adelaide the confidence to start Girl Space?

“It’s very hard to be heard as a young woman a lot of the time. You get pushed aside and placed into little categories and shut down by a lot of people. But to be honest, the thing that gave me the confidence to start Girl Space was the fact that I personally believe in it,” Ms Gentgall said.

“As a woman, I’ve found that people are quick to label you as bossy or overbearing when you really believe in something and want to make it happen.”

With the world becoming more progressive and inclusive – including the discussion of non-gendered bathrooms in establishments like universities and people in the public eye using more inclusive language – there is more of a want and need for safe spaces for minority groups.

Exploring this idea, Gentgall explains why Girl Space is for female-identifying artists only.

“Safe spaces are important – especially for women – because we’ve often been robbed of them,” she said.

In a patriarchal society, women are taking back what is also ours, and also finding spaces just for us. Gentgall has created Girl Space as a physical place for women to exist safely, knowing they will not be threatened or mistreated.

“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need safe spaces because the whole world would be one … [But] we need them because it’s hard as a female artist to find galleries and shows that take female artists as seriously as male artists. We need them because in major permanent collections in the western world, female artists make up only 3-5 per cent,” she said.

In a 2013 study taken in London by The White Review, out of the 134 commercial galleries in the city, only 5 per cent were found to host an equal amount of men and women. By creating a place for women only, Laura hoped it would bring confidence to and encourage female artists to go forth and keep exhibiting after Girl Space.

“I think that it’s important to have female-only shows because the other artists empower each other so much – they learn from each other and really boost each other up and I love seeing that happen,” Ms Gentgall said.

“As a young artist, it’s super intimidating and frightening to approach galleries to show your work. My hope is that by taking away that initial fear for artists, they’ll grow in confidence and eventually want to approach people on their own.”

With galleries favouring men, whenever a woman’s art is exhibited, it is another success for women worldwide.

Every achievement breaks another glass ceiling when you’re a woman.

Laura could very well be Adelaide’s answer to a Guerrilla Girl; an activist for women’s rights and fighting for equality in the art world.

At ‘The People Being The People’ party, it was a celebration of Adelaide’s youth arts community. And that’s what it is: a community.

The number of people that walked through the doors and stayed until close shows that Laura’s idea and supporters go far beyond friends and family of the artists.

It begs the question of whether Adelaide is on the cusp of an indie revolution –young people fighting for the arts and proving that live music, print media, and art exhibitions are not only still wanted, but thriving.

The wave of young creatives include Sam Little, writer for The Adelaidian who comes out with monthly gig guides and frequent music reviews; Jay Garland, bassist and singer in Samsara; musician Nicole O’Rielley; model Whitney Castree; women behind the lens Josephine Ainscough and Indigo Cherry; and magazine editors Lili Harrison and Ruby Healey with Culture Club Magazine.

“Adelaide’s art scene has grown exponentially in recent years… although we are a small city, I think that there are many advantages to that. Being an artist in a small city enables you to be closer to other artists around you… it also means that it’s easier to get your name out there,” Ms Gentgall said.

Live music is being played almost every night down Hindley or Rundle Street by local bands who make music that begs for attention. Nights of cheap beer and clothed in denim, there is always art hanging on the walls of these pubs and bars, and often the people filling the dark halls are people from the arts community showing their support for local talent. Friday nights feel like a flashback into a time that our parents lived through.

The twenty-somethings of this city are loud, talented, and have things to say. And all of it is worth hearing.

Is Adelaide, in all its small-city glory, about to lead the arts revival?

If it does, Laura will surely be at the head of the pack.

 

Image source: Girl Space and The Mill Adelaide

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