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Cassandra Martin

Where are you from? What is important to you?

I'm a Melbourne-born and bred artist who graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts and is currently studying Gender Studies at the University of Melbourne. Something that has always been important to me, in my practice and in general, is to use the privileges and power of my voice to support positive change, and to always respect and celebrate the diversity of people's identities. 


A lot of your art practise is based around abstracted depictions of the body, where do you source inspiration for your work?

It's strange, but I often draw inspiration from quite negative experiences and reactions to my work. I have encountered multiple people who are either confronted by seeing confident, nude women (especially models who don't fit conventional beauty standards), or people who feel the need to tell me about their own body insecurities. Talking to these people or hearing about these responses motivates me to create more work. 

In a similar way, finding art that objectifies women and that only depicts certain types of women (I don't have to look far for these), inspires me to counteract these things, and to reflect on how I could improve my own work.


Can you describe your first experience with feminism, or perhaps when you first identified as a feminist? Did this influence your art making or did your art making influence your feminism?

I can't remember ever not believing in equality and the need to advocate for it, although perhaps my first moment identifying specifically as a feminist would have been when my mum first explained what the word meant to me. Over the years, my understanding of the depth to feminism has grown and I am continually developing and shaping what my own personal feminism means to me. This both influences, and is influenced by, my art.


How do you define contemporary feminism?

To me, contemporary feminism is the belief that we live in a world where certain people, and particularly white, heterosexual, males, are privileged over Others by a system (i.e. a patriarchal society), and is an active rejection of this system. It recognises that oppression manifests in countless ways, that approaches to gender differ cross-culturally, and that there is no one thing that entails “woman”. 


Sleepover Club is about collective action and art making, but also about joining the broader conversation on feminism, how does your work translate the female experience?

My work talks to ideas around female experiences of nudity, personhood, agency, and women's relationships to their bodies. This being said, there is no singular 'female experience', and women's bodies are only called as such as they are literally bodies of women- not decided by shape, size, colour, ability, or genitalia.  


Can you expand on the themes and issues that you explore in your work?

In my work, I aim to amend the historically problematic artist-muse relationship in which women have often been used as a prop or exploited to benefit the (typically male) artist/genius. All those who model for my art do so voluntarily, and are commonly looking for a genuine experience with their nude bodies. The process is integral to my practice and models are given as much agency and control of how they are presented as possible. I also challenge the, almost automatic, sexualisation of female nudes. My work aims to replace the male gaze with an honest depiction of the experience we've shared in creating the work, as well as with a reflective female gaze. I would love for my art to additionally act as a representation of diversity amongst women, but I still have a long way to go and am always looking for a broader range of volunteers.


How do you think the sexism in the art world and creative industries overlaps with the wider struggle? What do you think needs to change?

In my experience, the most prevalent sexism that exists within the art world and creative industries is a lack of representation. This is a subtle and insidious form of sexism, as people can no longer get away with outrightly saying things in the vein of “women can't paint.” There is still an appallingly small number of women represented in our galleries and museums, as well as in art history books, art school curriculum, and even in teaching higher levels of art education. We need to be given more visible female role models, or else the cycle will continue. 


Can you share with us your favourite female artists/activists/role models?

I have so many incredible female role models to look up to, in both the art world and in general. I could go on for days! Some favourite artists would have to include, Marlene Dumas, Ana Mendieta, Louise Bourgeois, Tracey Emin, Joan Semmel, Hannah Villiger, Nan Goldin, and Adrian Piper. I also really admire Frida Kahlo. I know it's a bit of a cliché right now, but you just can't ignore somebody like that- a bisexual female artist of colour, who had both a physical disability and mental health issues, and has still managed to stay so iconic and popular throughout mainstream society! It's pretty incredible!

Alice Walker, Janet Mock, Malala Yousafzai, Joan Baez, Laverne Cox, and -let's face it- Beyoncé, have also been greatly inspiring to me as feminist role models.