Founders behind charity exhibition Hysterical share how they build community through activist art
The curators of Hysterical: A Celebration of Subversive Art sat down with Creative Boom to discuss this year's programme and their vision for a more accessible, more inclusive, more community-driven culture in the art world.
The origin story of Hysterical is a friendship fairy tale for the digital age: creators Bee Illustrates and Eliza Hatch fostered a friendship online, navigating their growing social media platforms as queer, feminist creators. When they met by accident at a post-pandemic IRL event in October 2021, they knew they were destined to be more than just friends: they were the perfect match as creative collaborators.
Five months later, they launched Hysterical, a charity group exhibition celebrating the work of women and marginalised genders using their creative practice as a form of protest. It's now back for a second year, featuring a brand new lineup of artworks and events and supporting a fresh set of charities: Glitch, which supports victims of online abuse and The Outside Project, supporting unhoused LGBTIQ+ youth.
This year's exhibition will bring together a group of interdisciplinary artists at London's Bermondsey Project Space Gallery from today until 25 March 2023.
Exhibiting artists include; Ciara Mohan, Maggie Williams, Aashfaria Anwar, Abby Richard, Simone Yasmin, Frannie Wise, Salt & Sister Studio (Halah El-Kholy and Heidi El-Kholy), Laurent Yee, Maddy Page, Fiona Quadri and Creaming Strawberries (Naïstini Valaydon and Coco Warner-Allen).
Of the many works on display, creators Eliza and Bee noted one particular stand-out: Irish artist Ciara Mohan's 'Wearable Hot Water Bottle'. "It looks like a uterus," Bee Illustrates told Creative Boom. "And it's just giant. It's all about endometriosis, raising awareness around that, and highlighting the issue and the lack of research on reproductive health, especially in Ireland."
Another favourite in the exhibition will be subversive golf balls designed by Abby Richards, which have been printed with the phone number for Planned Parenthood's donations hotline. "They're meant to be thrown on golf courses supplied by the people most likely to oppose [abortion]," Eliza explained.
"It's a really subversive peaceful protest," Abby told us she was trying to think of different radical ways to protest that was non-violent. So she's made these golf balls – anyone can buy them online. And you basically infiltrate one of the most conservative spaces – big luxury golf courses by throwing them in the holes."
Hatch also hinted at a secret element of the show, which the curious will have to attend Hysterical in person to see. The primary aim is to subvert the notion of "dramatic" or "hysterical" women and marginalised genders, ultimately "reclaiming terminology that has historically been used to silence oppressed communities".
The show is specifically curated through an intersectional feminist lens in order to represent a broad range of topics from a varied selection of artists whose work centres on exploring issues such as gender, race, identity, politics, climate change, feminism and more. Hysterical will offer audiences a new and alternative way of engaging with art while emphasising that art can be fun and joyful yet still tackle serious issues.
But the exhibition's founders are also incredibly keen for Hysterical to be more than a showcase; it should, above all things, be a safe space.
Given the trajectory of Bee and Eliza's relationship – from DM buddies to co-creators and close friends, it tracks that they want to facilitate for others what their experience in curating Hysterical given to them: creative community, friendship, and safety. "We just wanted to make a really nice, safe feeling space for people who don't feel like they fit in in kind of traditional gallery settings," Eliza told us.
Whether that sense of belonging has been denied to people due to their sexuality, gender and expression, artistic style, or mental and physical health needs, Hysterical's founders have endeavoured to create a truly welcoming space for everyone.
From the Bermondsey Project Space's fully accessible facilities to a partnership with the Body Love Sketch Club to subvert the stuffy, objectification of traditional life drawing, the entire initiative is designed to facilitate the kinds of inclusive, meaningful experiences and artistic connections that Bee and Eliza value in their own collaboration. Though neither will show work at this year's exhibition, their artistic and community vision is stamped all over Hysterical. The initiative is all the better for their careful, community-driven approach to curation.
Hysterical runs from 15-25 March. Admission to the exhibition is free, with workshops and events ticketed at accessible prices and art available for purchase. 100% of the money raised from ticket sales will be donated to The Outside Project and Glitch, with artists allowed to donate a percentage of the funds from their art sales to charity.