'A lot of tears and laughter': Exhibition explores women's power

Powerful women: Maria Tran and Nancy Trieu at the launch of Primordial. Picture: Simon Bennett
Powerful women: Maria Tran and Nancy Trieu at the launch of Primordial. Picture: Simon Bennett

Primordial - a photographic and film exhibition that explores women's power, strength and challenges of being an artist and a women - launched earlier this month at the Fairfield School of Arts.

The Champion caught up with Maria Tran and Nancy Trieu who collaborated on the project which explores women's raw power through the use of four key elements fire, water, wind and earth.

The exhibition features a photo series alongside a montage documentary from collaborating artists: Karen Therese, Mouna Zaylah, Lina Kastoumis, Layla Mkhayber, Hawanatu Bangura, Donita Hulme, Bee Cruse, Sue Ismiel and Dai Le. It will return in April.

Champion: What inspired the exhibition?

Nancy: Maria and I met each other and just sat down and bounced around some ideas.

Maria: We always found that women that are doing great work in the arts are under-recognised and not really seen. They're known for doing great work but they are not actually celebrated. So we thought this was a great opportunity for us to find out who is doing what in the western Sydney community, as well as get them to be involved in something they probably have never done before which is a photographic portrait of themselves, as well take part in a very powerful documentary.

Champion: What does the documentary feature?

Nancy: A lot of it is reflecting on what it means to be a women and a artist and the challenges we all go through.

Maria: A lot of these women, especially from western Sydney, didn't choose to be in the arts. They kind of fell into it and stumbled into it and never left it because they fell in love with the fact with the amount of change they are able to make through the programs they ran or the workshops they did or the art pieces that created and being from western Sydney they were able share their work with different culture diverse groups.

A lot of the time we think an artist's inspiration coming from within but with community art, it is art that is created in collaboration with other artists and the community and I find that type of art is more powerful.

Champion: What was it like for the artists to be on the other side of the camera?

Nancy: A lot of the artists are always behind the camera...the ones that create. It was a different experience for them. 

Maria: A lot of tears, laughter and lots of emotion came through the documentary interview session and then they were was a photo shoot that was all about them and being in their element. One artist Mouna Zaylah  she is renowned as stern and serious and we got that smile out of here and we displayed that.

Champion: What was the reaction like on opening night?

Maria: We had a great turn out and a lot people saying they want to see it. It's  great to see that demand, especially in Fairfield. A lot of people came from other parts of Sydney. It's fantastic and humbling we could have that effect.

Karen Therese, Merryn O'Sullivan, Maria Tran, Therese Chen, and Nancy Trieu at the ' Primordial exhibition at the Fairfield School of Arts. Picture: Simon Bennett

Karen Therese, Merryn O'Sullivan, Maria Tran, Therese Chen, and Nancy Trieu at the ' Primordial exhibition at the Fairfield School of Arts. Picture: Simon Bennett

Champion: Was there one story that stood out? 

Maria: All the stories were very powerful. There were stories of growing up with different cultures and domestic violence and how it help shape who they are and how they embraced the arts to not only empower themselves but empower other people - especially refugees coming from overseas and settling in Fairfield -  and how them help them running workshops to cope with trauma

Nancy: They keep giving back through all the pain. They put their story out there to give back.

Maria: When we did this project there was a lot of anxiety from the artists was they were not good enough. The consensus of these women was they weren't good enough to be apart of this. That is why we had to do this; to recognise the women who are doing amazing works and putting them in the limelight.  

Nancy: A lot of the artists said 'I don't think my story is good enough' but when we put it together it's amazing how powerful our voices and stories are.

Champion: What would your message be to aspiring female artists? 

Maria: I think collaboration. The resources are so limited in western Sydney. A lot of people coming from this area it's hard for them to go to mum and dad say I'm doing an arts degree. I still think you can express yourself but you need to find your tribe, find other women doing things and find mentors. There is so much happening in Fairfield and there is so much opportunity to learn new skills.

Champion: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Nancy: This has been an amazing journey, but I delved deep and listened to other people’s stories and learnt to see beyond myself. Hearing how similar yet how powerful our own stories are and what creates what we do matters and how it can inspires and empowers others without even knowing. 

Maria: We didn’t really know what we were getting into, but at the same time, we knew that it’s something that we should. This is something that hasn’t been done before so we should do it to see what we get.  Hearing the other women’s voices allowed me to see other perspective. The more I understand other people’s journeys the more, as an artist, I’m allowed to see the bigger picture of humans and how we all come to be. I think it was such a powerful platform for these stories and voices to have a place to live.

The Primordial exhibition is managed by Phoenix Eye in collaboration with NAT Photography.