19 December 2023

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Women’s Experiences of Homelessness Revealed Through Art Bus Workshops

Claire and Miranda, respected artists, qualified teachers, and owners of the Art Bus, have been running a weekly visual arts program at Catherine House for almost two years. They are known and trusted by those who use the Women’s Centre to access the many diverse activities and supports on offer.

We recently asked them to devote a series of classes focusing on the women’s lived experience of homelessness. Here is what they had to say:

In July this year, we were asked if we might focus part of our upcoming Adult Community Education program on gender and homelessness through art. We introduced the idea, asking the group of 10 women if they were interested in talking about this issue and if they would like to learn the process of mono printing. Three women were new to the group: one woman was recently released from prison, another had just returned to Australia, and the third was recovering from long-term addiction.

We discussed what parity meant and how gender and homelessness intersected. Each person had something to say, and as we talked, key words and ideas were written up on a whiteboard.

The women described a homelessness journey as often, but not always, going from cars to tents, to couch surfing, and finally to cement.

Claire and Miranda discuss gendered homelessness with the class.

Their experiences of homelessness were also connected to and shaped by the broader social determinants of health, including family violence, unstable employment, mental ill health, and women’s often low levels of superannuation. The current cost of living crisis and spiralling rents add to the increasing anxiety felt by many women.

The conversation drew mixed emotions, including outrage, humour, and reflexivity. Following the discussion, each woman chose a single word to explore visually. We asked them to think about a pose that might best visually represent their word, which would be included in their work. We workshopped possibilities with each other about how to stand, different poses, and how to capture an idea through our bodies to create a self-portrait. Claire took photographs of each participant, which became the inspiration for the drawn mono print – a one-off that requires spontaneity and some courage.

This project was the first time some of the women had participated in this type of art-making process, one that involved sharing stories and lived experiences.

Furthermore, while mono-printing is a simple but multi-stage process, some women were initially hesitant and needed support through each stage. Miranda demonstrated the process, creating the No Super image.

As artists, we aim to also create work alongside the participants, thus creating a feeling of equality, safety and mutual respect working in an art space together.

At the end of the first workshop, each woman had created a black ink print. The women were surprised and rewarded with the outcome of their efforts and commented on how happy they were with the results. We could see it was a real boost to their confidence levels, and there was a palpable sense of joy and pride in their work.

The following week, colour and shape were introduced to extend the meaning of their everyday experiences through the visual artwork. The women’s reflections on their lives and on the way gender and homelessness come together are powerfully illustrated in this collection of work, which we hope to share with a broader audience in an exhibition later this year.

No Where to Go’, Monoprint, 2023
Addiction’, Monoprint, 2023
Invisible’, Monoprint, 2023
Being homeless made me feel completely invisible.
Return home to no home’, Monoprint, 2023

Play it Safe’, Monoprint, 2023

She’s praying for somewhere safe to live. It’s a self-portrait. I was in a housing trust flat, and I went into hospital for six months and a support worker came to see me and suggested I move to Catherine House as a transition to prevent my homelessness. Now I’m in an accommodation place with other women. The red square means me being alert to things that are unsafe. The red represents the safety of the box and also not always fitting into that box. I feel safe where I am and the flowers on my body make me feel peaceful.

Safety’, Monoprint, 2023

I now live in a house with other women, and I feel safe there. The green strip at the top represents people being around and the green circle is about having good thoughts about other people. The hand says, ‘Stop violence against women’.

Psychosis’, Monoprint, 2023

I chose the word psychosis because I became homeless because of my psychosis because I didn’t think I was safe, but actually I didn’t feel safe anywhere, so I left home and roamed the streets, and then I felt even less safe. I was terrified. I was going to all these different services, and no one would help me. All the services – mental health, homelessness, DV, drug, and alcohol, each sent me to the other service, and none would take me on. But I had abject psychosis, and I was really vulnerable, and I was very unsafe. The image is a self-portrait – it’s saying I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what to do. Everything is wrong and I don’t know how to fix it.

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