‘Go women!’ Meroogal Women’s Art Prize 2020


Celebrating women’s lives, creativity and stories in the ‘women’s house’ of Meroogal, this year’s prize received a rich and diverse range of entries. 

The 18th Meroogal Women’s Art Prize exhibition was launched on 23 September. In a year that has been challenging for many, Sydney Living Museums was steadfastly committed to continuing the tradition of inviting contemporary artists into our places and providing a framework within which they can respond. Women artists based in NSW were again invited to create works that pay tribute to the generations of women who lived at the property for almost 100 years. 

While many major art museums are just now turning their eyes to the work of women artists, the Meroogal Women’s Art Prize has for two decades championed the work of women artists and foregrounded the importance of women’s stories.

Deborah Ely AM, judge

Meroogal, in Nowra, is a special place. It was cherished by its owners, the Thorburn and Macgregor families, from 1886 until it was acquired by SLM (then the Historic Houses Trust of NSW) in 1985. The first Meroogal Women’s Art Prize was held in 1998, and its popularity has continued to grow. 

SLM Executive Director Adam Lindsay says of the prize: ‘It’s about engaging with the past in an utterly contemporary way, exploring history and creating something brand new for people to enjoy today’.

A bumper response

In recognition of the impact that COVID-19 has had on artistic practice across the state, this year SLM waived the usual entry fee. The response was unprecedented, with 300 entries received from 254 artists, both new and returning entrants. In a year when connection with community is more important than ever, we were delighted with the number of artists who submitted entries, and the quality of their engagement with Meroogal. 

Of the 300 entries, 42 works by 40 artists were short-listed for the exhibition, in media as diverse as painting, textiles, audio, ceramics and mixed media. These finalist works are now displayed throughout the house. As the curator of the prize, I can attest that the installation process is both a privilege and a challenge. The privilege: we have the opportunity to meet the finalists and witness how they have cast new light on the collection, stories and people of Meroogal through their artworks. The challenge: installing works in a house museum dense with collection items where only existing fixtures and fittings can be used. While some works sit proudly and loudly, and others nestle gently and quietly, all respond to Meroogal and its unique history.

As we were installing the works, a passer-by ambled up the path and asked us what we were doing. When we explained that we were installing an exhibition of artworks created by women in a house that had been home to four generations of women from one family, she exclaimed, ‘Go women!’ Her spontaneous response became our rallying cry during the installation. 

From strength to strength

The judges for this year’s prize were Bronwyn Coulston, Unit Manager – Arts & Culture, Shoalhaven City Council; Deborah Ely AM, CEO, Bundanon Trust; Anne Ferran, visual artist; and Sharon Veale, Partner and Chief Executive of GML Heritage, and SLM Trustee.

This year’s winning artists have created forms in plastic, ceramic and textile to reveal fresh perspectives and deeper insights into life in the past. Each of the works has a distinctive character, is technically accomplished and delights both the eye and the mind, while enlivening Meroogal’s sense of place.

Sharon Veale, judge

Choosing three winning artworks was difficult. As Bronwyn Coulston said: ‘Each of the finalists showed a highly considered and thoughtful response to the house and the people who lived there. It was wonderful to see the ways the hidden stories and the personal connections were pulled out and used to inform the artworks’.

That artists continue to respond to Meroogal as a house museum and former home with such depth, creativity and diversity is testimony to the self-sufficient lives of its former inhabitants. Anne Ferran commented: ‘The works in this exhibition offer original, creative encounters with the fabric of Meroogal and those who lived there. It’s been an intensely pleasurable experience to encounter them’. SLM is proud to host this exhibition – please come and visit.

The Meroogal Women’s Art Prize exhibition is on display at Meroogal every Saturday until 17 April.

MWAP logos 2020

About the Author

Joanna Nicholas, Curator, Sydney Living Museums.
Joanna Nicholas
House Museums Portfolio
Joanna is Curator in the House Museums Portfolio - responsible for Vaucluse, Elizabeth Bay and Rose Seidler Houses. She is...

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