Facebook campaign depicting women directors aims to tackle entrenched bias

Richard Watts

A new initiative by the Australian Women Directors’ Alliance aims to normalise images of women as creative leaders by flooding Facebook with photographs of women in leadership positions.
Facebook campaign depicting women directors aims to tackle entrenched bias

Kate Kelly directing Animal Farm, 2018. With Kate Dyer, Cat Hart, Nyasha Ogden, Michael Van Berkel, Leo Boudib and Isaac Reid. Photo by Tony Rive via Facebook.

Every day in 2019, the Australian Women Directors’ Alliance (AWDA) will share a photograph on Facebook depicting a female-identifying artist in a creative leadership position.

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The new advocacy project, 365 Days: Australian Women Directing, is designed to promote the cultural agency of women by making their roles, experience and authority more visible.

Director and performance maker Tamara Searle, who is curating the project on behalf of the AWDA, described the campaign as ‘normalising the image of women’ as creative and artistic leaders.  

‘There is still a bias that exists, that means that women are not perceived to be strong artistic leaders,’ Searle said.

‘This project will saturate us with images of women in these roles to combat this bias. Rather than highlighting the problem again and again, we are seeking impact through visibility, via positive examples of women actively leading artistic projects – and lots of them!’

Referencing a recent composite photograph shared on social media, Searle added: ‘The images that came out recently of the Artistic Directors of major theatre companies in Australia were troubling because of the lack of representation of women and people of non-Anglo ethnicity. Boards, programmers, and executives recruiting need to question their own bias. This project is challenging that bias. It is also showing the diversity of practice of women.’

Female-identifying artists who wish to participate in the project are invited to email thisistamarasearle@gmail.com with a photograph depicting them actively leading a project in a studio, site, or a theatre – not a headshot. Artists should include details about the names of anyone pictured in the photograph, the name of the project depicted, the year the image was taken and the name of the photographer to be credited.

At the time of writing, 11 photographs have been published, depicting the likes of Kate Champion, Susie Dee, Lucy Guerin, Katt Osborne, Kate Sulan, Robyn Archer, Evelyn Krape and others.

Searle said she has been delighted by the response to the project to date and noted that she is still receiving responses.

‘The posts themselves are generating submissions. We are also making some personal requests to companies to access images from their archives, and we are asking our colleagues in the sector to spread the word. It’s really a great pleasure for me, and I think others, to see the practices and processes of women, their peers, colleagues, mentors, mentees in the studio and rehearsal rooms. It is a place and a practice that we don’t often get to see. Many women are realising that they don't have images of themselves leading rooms and are now actively seeking them as part of their current projects,’ she said. 

Tellingly, the majority of images published to date appear to show cis-gendered, Anglo-Australian women, which Searle agreed was problematic.

‘The barriers women face undoubtedly increase when of a non-Anglo Australian ethnicity. We have been actively reaching out to directors of different ethnicities, and there are some scheduled already: Ming-Zhu Hii, and Rani Pramesti for example, who are artists visibly of non-Anglo Australian ethnicities. There may be others that are not visibly non-Anglo Australian but nevertheless identify as such who have also submitted. We are excited to champion all women directors of different ethnicities and look forward to more submissions,’ Searle concluded. 

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's Committee of Management and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel.

He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts