Artists living with disability retreat to the Australian bush to find – Ausnew Home Care

Artists living with disability retreat to the Australian bush to find inspiration post COVID-19 lockdown

disability Disability Employment Services disability law NDIS Women Women empowerment

These female artists living with disabilities have been freed from months of isolation due to coronavirus lockdowns — and now they've reignited their creative minds in the Australian bush.

An artists' residency, organised for them by the Bundanon Trust and Accessible Arts, aims to provide opportunities to creatives living with disability.

The five women spent a week in purpose-built studios at Bundanon, the former home of the late artist Arthur Boyd, on the NSW south coast.

The ABC joined them, and these are their stories.

Michelle Teear

Landscape painter Michelle Teear has always been fascinated by the Australian outdoors.

Michelle Teear in a bush environment
Michelle Teear says the retreat created a sense of community.(

ABC News: Mary Lloyd


The 36-year-old from Lake Macquarie lives with a form of chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS).

She spends a month each year living in nature and her work is inspired by Australia's unique wildlife and the colours and shapes of the landscape.

"It's a really meditative process, it creates calm for me and when I'm in that space working, I'm in my best mindset," Ms Teear said.

"I live with chronic pain so anything I can do to feel better is a win."

Michelle Teear at Bundanon
Michelle Teear says the Australian landscape creates a sense of calm for her.(

ABC News: Mary Lloyd


The residency at Bundanon gave her the opportunity to paint an area she'd never visited before.

It was also the first time she'd met someone with similar chemical sensitivities.

Ms Teear has started making her own paints using natural oils, free of harmful additives.

"It's been invaluable getting to connect, not just with other artists and learn about their practices and their careers, but a lot of us are living with invisible disabilities," Ms Teear said.

"It creates a sense of community and you don't feel alone."

Eugenie Lee

Art has always been a form of advocacy for Eugenie Lee.

A woman wearing a magnifying glass headband working on a piece of art
Eugenie Lee collaborates with researchers, neuroscientists and other people living with chronic pain to create installations.(

ABC News: Mary Lloyd


Ms Lee lives with chronic pain, chemical sensitivities and an auto-immune condition.

"It's about breaking down that stigma and misunderstanding of persistent pain in our society," she said.

The Sydney-based artist has collaborated with researchers, neuroscientists and other people living with chronic pain to create installations to demonstrate the concept.

"Instead of reading about the complex knowledge of neuroscience and hearing stories through other people living with persistent pain, I find it's a lot easier if I give (them) an experience," she said.

"If they can embody the experience themselves then they understand far better than any other methods."

A woman alone working on art in a room.
Eugenie Lee says the retreat gave her a chance to recharge.(

ABC News: Mary Lloyd


But when COVID-19 hit and physical distancing measures were introduced, Ms Lee was forced to rethink the way she worked.

Her time at Bundanon was a chance to "recharge her creative mojo" which she said she lost during lockdown.

She started working with polymer clay to create human organs as vehicles for externalising her invisible disability.

Ms Lee said the residency was an experience she could have never got sitting in her studio.

"To be able to connect with other artists, other creatives who are exploring their own skills and ideas, I'm learning from them," Ms Lee said.

Rhiannon Pegler

Rhiannon Pegler has always used her art to encourage people not to "judge a book by its cover."

She collects fungi, slime, mould and plankton from local environments before photographing them under microscopes and interpreting them onto canvas with acrylic paint.

A woman searching for algae
Rhiannon Pegler said her art was "a form of escapism".(

ABC News: Mary Lloyd


"I like the idea that there are all these worlds around us that nobody really gets to see," Ms Pegler said.

The Wollongong-based artist lives with chronic migraines and depression.

Art for her has always been a form of escapism.

But the recent months of isolation during the pandemic were a struggle for Ms Pegler and it had a negative impact on her work.

She said she thought she'd cope fine with lockdown because she wasn't ever one to go out much, but that wasn't the case.

Not being able to see friends and family proved challenging.

A woman in a studio environment
Rhiannon Pegler struggled to find the time to paint during COVID.(

ABC News: Mary Lloyd


"I actually started seeing things and hearing things just because I was in an absolute panic for something that wasn't really tangible," she said.

Her time at Bundanon gave her the serenity she needed to get her art back on track and form new friendships.

"I'm trying to make art and meeting people the norm, so that I don't have these huge panic attacks all the time, because I do want to give back to the community," Ms Pegler said.

"But it's really hard when your body betrays you."

Bernadette Smith

For Sydney artist Bernadette Smith the retreat was the immersive experience she never knew she needed.

A woman taking photos with an iPhone
Bernadette Smith photographed the Shoalhaven River and hoped to create installations about life in the area's waterways.(

ABC News: Mary Lloyd


"It was amazing to be with the other four women who like me had challenges but were just getting on with it," she said.

The cross-disciplinary artist lives with anxiety, depression, learning disabilities and a herniated lower back disc.

She has worked with video installation and photography for more than 30 years and has recently started exploring water sustainability.

During her time at Bundanon, Ms Smith photographed the Shoalhaven River and hoped to create installations about life in the areas' waterways.

"I wanted to evoke a feeling of respect for the environment and make people think more deeply about the river ecology without being preachy," she said.

The pandemic saw Ms Smith struggle to maintain her physical therapy. She became unwell and unable to continue with her art.

Ms Smith said too often artists with disability encountered barriers within the arts because it relied heavily on networking, which some found difficult.

"The industry can often be competitive and you can lose that sense of collaboration," she said.

"It was fantastic to be surrounded by artists in a supportive and empathetic place, free of judgement."

Liz Cooper

Filmmaker Liz Cooper has been bringing different types of women to the screen since her 20s.

Liz Cooper looking at another person's art
Liz Cooper used the time to work on her next script.(

ABC News: Mary Lloyd


Ms Cooper lives with the neurological condition Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT), and lipomyelomeningocele, which is a form of spina bifida.

"The way I make art is by working with marginalised women, my art is activism," Ms Cooper said.

Based in Sydney, Ms Cooper used her time at Bundanon to work on the draft of her next feature film.

It tells the story of a 13-year-old girl in prison, her interactions with inmates and the impact incarceration has on her life.

"Being at Bundanon gave me the incredible opportunity to have uninterrupted space and time to write and fully immerse myself in the process," Ms Cooper said.

The 42-year-old said being around other female artists gave her the creative boost many in the industry had missed because of the pandemic.

While the arts sector has seen widespread job losses and venues closed, Ms Cooper said she remained positive about the future.

"Artists don't always need smooth sailing," she said.

"We are resilient and we always find new ways to forge ahead."

Source: ABC

Older Post Newer Post