Ever been told to stop being dramatic? This exhibition is subverting the “hysterical” label for women and marginalised genders
The charity exhibition is curated by Bee Illustrates and Cheer Up Luv, celebrating work centred on community, activism, and taking up space.
- Liz Gorny
- 8 March 2022
Hysterical, melodramatic, over-the-top, a bit much; these are comments women and marginalised genders are all too familiar with. Historically used to oppress specific communities, the words are now being reclaimed in a new exhibition, curated by Bee Illustrates and Eliza Hatch (founder of Cheer Up Luv), centring art as activism. The charity exhibition, entitled Hysterical, brings together creatives from multiple disciplines, whose work focuses on issues such as identity, race, sexual harassment, gender, disability, politics and more, to subvert the notion of “hysterical”. All ticket sales from the charity event will be donated to Mermaids and UN Women.
“Throughout history,” Bee Illustrates tells It’s Nice That, “‘hysteria’ has been a condition assigned to women* to explain away behaviours or symptoms that threatened to upset the status quo or made people who benefit from the patriarchy uncomfortable.” Both curators have experienced dismissal in their creative work; Bee Illustrates explains that when Eliza began Cheer Up Luv (a photo series and platform dedicated to retelling stories of sexual harassment) she was met with criticism for highlighting stories that “some deem to be ‘not as serious’ or ‘not that bad’”. Bee Illustrates continues: “Often women* are told to dilute themselves down, become smaller, more passive, and take up less space in order to fit into the box that society has created for them.”
Hysterical instead aims to celebrate women and marginalised genders taking up space, defying stereotypes and challenging constructs of femininity. Another key part of the exhibit is that it highlights creatives using art as a tool for advocacy, “something we interact with a lot on social media, but rarely see in a gallery setting”, says Eliza Hatch.
Contributing artists have worked in mediums ranging from short film to textiles to explore this concept through various themes. Works include Tayo Adekunle’s Reclamation of the Exposition, exploring the commodification, fetishisation and sexualisation of the Black female body both past and present, and Eleanor West’s Greenham Common Quilt, which explores the history of the Greenham Common peace camp and the lives of the women who lived and protested at RAF Greenham Common in the 1980s. Elsewhere, Jodie Bateman’s photo series My Hijab Has A Voice: Revisited investigates the stereotypes associated with being a Muslim living in Western society.
Other exhibiting artists include; Alice Skinner, Florence Winter Hill, Alia Romagnoli, Linnet Panashe Rubaya, Iga Bielawska, Molly Piper Greaves, Samiira Garane, Beth Suzanna, Charlie J Fitz, Sara Jardine, Josie Devine, Ophelia Arc, Florence Poppy Deary, and curators Eliza Hatch and Bee Illustrates themselves.
As part of Hysterical, Grrrl Zine Fair will run a Feminist Zine Workshop, giving attendees an opportunity to get creative and make their own Feminist Zine. Attendees will learn about folding techniques, binding and collage, while being able to hear all about zine history, Riot Grrrl and contemporary zine culture. Like the rest of the Hysterical exhibit, the workshop will have a focus on using art as a form of protest. Hysterical is also hosting a panel centred around the idea of “hysterical” and how it has been used to silence people with a variety of overlapping identities; speakers include Gina Martin, Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin, Cathy Reay, Maxine Williams, Tori West, and India Ysabel. As community is another key part of the Hysterical ethos, the panel are accepting questions and comments from across social media.
100 per cent of all ticket sales from the Hysterical workshop and panel events will go towards Mermaids and UN Women; any surplus raised from the exhibition Crowdfunder will also be donated to Hysterical’s charity partners.
Beth Suzanna: Hair is Care (Copyright © Beth Suzanna, 2022)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.