SHIELD OF VOICES, 2018

Edith Cowan University and Parliament of Western Australia Artist in Resident 2018. 

Stainless steel

110 cm diam x 10cm deep. 

 

 

1832 marks the year the Western Australian Legislative Council was created. In the same year, the Great Reform Act enfranchised most of the male middle-class in England. It was at this time that the emerging nouveau riche adopted upper-class practices such as the use of calling cards, to access and maintain hierarchical power structures. Architecturally, the interior of the Parliament of Western Australia is modelled on this period, maintaining a distinctive Victorian gentlemen’s club aesthetic, reflecting the past exclusion of all, bar the white male patriarchy.

Calling cards were a formal request to speak to the occupants and control class structures by vetting visitors. Upper-class homes and gentlemen’s clubs had silver trays at the entry for accepting visitors’ cards. The cards conveyed a person’s character or a message through symbolic flora and nature motifs.

This work aims to redress the conflict of the gentlemen’s club style interior and its association with the period of gender and class discrimination by reinterpreting the calling card in contemporary materials and processes to reflect the 93 women Members of the Parliament of Western Australia. The cards represent the feminine and diverse new views these women brought as participants for the benefit, often, to women and those with suppressed voices.

The silver tray is now oversized, wall-mounted and becomes shield-like, suggesting the collective strength and determination of these women and celebrates their contribution over the last 100 years. Notably, it quotes Edith Cowan from 1921 with one of her election platforms: Equal Pay for Equal Work. Yet this quotation reminds us that despite progress, inequality still exists in various forms including the ongoing gender pay gap.  The artwork also asks, what wisdom may have been excluded in the past due to a lack of diverse voices? And who will ensure this land is equally capable of supporting the life of its future inhabitants as it has for its past inhabitants?

Photography by Douglas Mark Black