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Scarlett Mellows

Where are you from? What is important to you?

I’m a Melbourne girl through and through, I enjoy living close to the city and being in and around creative spaces and old houses. 

Things that are important to me:

Always paying an artist or tradesperson a fair wage – never undervalue someone’s work

Having a creative space and surrounding myself with creative interesting people

Human rights and respect (everyone should feel valued, useful, respected and loved)

Preservation and restoration of our natural environment

Tipping wait-staff 

Listening intently and learning 

 

Where do you source inspiration for your work?

I think it is important not just to look at the fine arts for inspiration. Reading articles, interviews, journals and essays on what you are interested can fire inspiration too. I also look at scientific and documentary photos for honest depictions of the human body.

I make an effort to plan gallery days, I really enjoy wandering around galleries by myself – even if I’m not immediately attracted to the work, it’s good to be present in front of something tangible.  

 

Can you describe your first experience with feminism, or perhaps when you first identified as a feminist? 

As kids my sister and I loved watching Mary Poppins (even with the terrible English accents) and I was always intrigued by Mrs. Banks, she wasn’t the typical stay at home mum – that’s how I first learnt about the suffragettes. 

I guess I really started aligning my beliefs with feminism when I learnt about the movements in school - I was like ‘well yeah, they are talking about all the things I already believe, women and men should be treated equally, and it is disturbing how women’s bodies are used to sell things’.  Feminism to me never meant women who hated men or thought they were more superior – it was about equality, respect and breaking the mould of what women should and could be. 

I was brought up to be proud of my sex, women always deserved the same rights and had the ability to do whatever men did.  I can remember even when I was very young I would get a prickle at the back of my neck when I detected when someone was being condescending or judgemental towards women.  

This whole “movement” of #idontneedfeminism really angers me to be honest.  I guess it makes me feel like those who proclaim it are not thankful for what previous generations of women have been through.

 

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?

I feel that almost every woman, at least in westernised countries like Australia, have felt the pressure to look like and live up to an ideal or feminine aesthetic that is very time consuming and near impossible to maintain. My embroideries are a conversation on how women relate to their natural body – particularly their hair and how hair has the ability to float between desirable and abject – depending on its state and context. 

I am also interested in gender representation and what hair’s role is in projecting and performing gender roles.  

 

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

For the past few years my work has been investigating notions around humanity’s relationship to hair and all the different facets this can encompass.  My work evolved from hair’s physical and psychological connection to the animal world and then to its erotic, sexual and primal connotations.  I started to explore the notion that controlling hair makes people feel secure and civilised and I am questioning what and who are the influences governing how women in particular, alter their bodies.

In this collection of work I use embroidery which is traditionally a woman’s art form or ‘craft’ –  I am also employing human hair work – which is a kind of nod towards Momento Mori, remembrance and acknowledgment of death and the deterioration of the body. 

By removing hair from the body of both women and men, placing it on handkerchiefs, commonly associated with covering the nose, mouth and eyes, I wished the viewer to imagine encountering these works in an intimate proximity, their body brushing against another’s body.  My aim was to raise a sense of discomfort or disgust, paralleled with the pleasing aesthetic of the fabrics, lace and delicate stitching.  This alignment could allow viewers to contemplate the strange duality of hair as a simultaneously coveted and loathed corporal material – and maybe find a new sense of comfort or appreciation in its presence on their own body.

Employing a material that the body manufactures is really interesting and appealing to me. Physically embedding oneself, and others, into an object is like trying to cheat death or the disappearance of memory and legacy.  In the process of stitching the hair I feel like I have gained a greater appreciation for its materiality.

 

Have you ever experienced sexism first hand in your experience as an artist?

I remember during one critique at art school, classmates were asked to suggest galleries that would be appropriate to show my work – a local print gallery was suggested, but my lecturer scoffed and said that this work would never get chosen as it was “too girly” and the curator hated showing work with any link to feminism.  

 

What do you think needs to change in the art world before women are on par with men?

It will be a long road, and I don’t think there is any one thing that will change everything – does the art world need to change first before wider society can? – Or is it the other way around?  That’s interesting!

 I remember 10 or so years ago it was kind of looked upon as offensive when someone called your artwork “craft”- I think it had negative connotations as “lesser important art” of “lesser quality” – certainly not to be hung among paintings and called ART – this might or might not be linked to crafts association with Women’s work or Women’s pastimes.  But that has definitely shifted in the last few years; embroidery, ceramics, jewellery and fabric work have become really popular mediums for emerging artists – women and men alike! – and there is also a new respect for it being both functional and conceptual. 

I think this revived excitement around these mediums and their acknowledgment and legit art-forms is a step in the right direction to recognising women’s artistic work throughout history and in the future. 

What else needs to change?  The wealthy people who govern what is popular and what is collectable art.

 

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

There are so many great women I love! 

I am always drawn to artworks that suggest the human body or the interior body merging with nature or natural elements.  I find Kiki Smith’s works engaging in this way whether it’s the subtlety in her prints or her provocative sculptures. 

As a young girl, Paula Rego and Frida Kahlo were the first female artists I discovered whose depiction of the female form really spoke to me as being honest and relatable – strong, weighty bodies of muscle and flesh that could be at times humorous or soulful.

I find the work by the GUERRILLA GIRLS' really compelling, not only because the facts and figures they were bringing to light disturbed me – but their humour, concise use of text and involvement outside “the gallery space” really opened up what ART could be for me.

In regards to hair and its amalgamation with the unexpected and abject I am inspired by the works of Kathy Prendergast and the drawings and sculptures of Patricia Piccinini. I also find hair as a material influence and it inspires me in its language, movement, limitations and line.

Art: scarlettmellows.com

Contact: scarlett_mellows@hotmail.com

 

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