Canberra's feminist icons to be on display as part of a new exhibition

Work on show: Artist Julie McCarron-Benson with one of her 19 portraits that she has painted as part of a new exhibition at Canberra Artworks Gallery. Photo: Andrew Brown
Work on show: Artist Julie McCarron-Benson with one of her 19 portraits that she has painted as part of a new exhibition at Canberra Artworks Gallery. Photo: Andrew Brown

For the past year, artist Julie McCarron-Benson has been hard at work on a series of portraits of some of Canberra’s most important feminists.

Now, at last, they’re ready to be shown to the public.

Canberra’s Feminist Strength is a new exhibition being held throughout March at Canberra Artworks Gallery in Phillip, which features 19 portraits.

Ms McCarron-Benson said the idea behind the exhibition was to recognise the work of many women whose work has often gone unnoticed.

“Last year was the 50th anniversary of the removal of the Marriage Bar...which was legislation where if a woman got married they had to leave work,” she said.

“No one celebrated it, so I thought I’d paint portraits of the women who campaigned for its removal, but also the women who campaigned for equal pay and childcare and the things we take for granted.”

The artist said each work on average took between 40 and 50 hours to complete, starting with a live drawing before doing a pastel drawing and painting the background.

What I've been trying to do is to paint these women so there’s a record of them.

Julie McCarron-Benson

While many of the women who feature in the exhibition are known personally by Ms McCarron-Benson, asking them to sit for the paintings was just as difficult as any other subject, she said.

“It’s very hard to ask someone to sit for you, no one really wants to at first,” she said.

Among the women featured in the month-long exhibition are former Capital Football chief executive Heather Reid and ABC presenter Elaine Harris. Ms McCarron-Benson also features in the exhibition as a subject in a self portrait.

While the artist has done many portraits before, this has been the first time she has put on an exhibition of this scale.

“It’s been a massive 12-month campaign to get to this stage,” she said. The Canberra artist said the paintings are a way for more people to be able to recognise the achievements and the contribution these women have made, often without public acknowledgement.

“These are women who have done amazing things and most have done it without recognition,” she said.

“What I've been trying to do is to paint these women so there’s a record of them.”

To see a video interview with Julie McCarron-Benson, visit The Chronicle’s Facebook page.