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Hen Collective

Friday. 16th April 2021

In Conversation with: Hen Collective

Edinburgh’s Hen Collective is a brand new arts project working to promote and exhibit the works of upcoming hens, femmes and thems. Last month’s exhibition showcased the surrealist films and paintings of artist Katherine Stanley, their work perfectly suited to the collective's unorthodox venue - an assuming bakery that sits just off the fork of Tollcross. 

We were lucky to catch up with Tiree and Imogen to find out more about their exciting new project, what inspired their ethos and what’s coming next.

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How did you come to form the Hen Collective?


The collective grew from angry chats at work about the state of the arts industry. The
gendered stats around gallery representation and financial percentages are almost too wild
to believe, and yet true. We realised we had a lot of largely unused wall space at our
workplace (Babka Edinburgh) and decided we wanted to affect even a small change in our
local area. There is so much focus on self-promotion on Instagram for artists now and,
understandably, this can get overwhelming and tiring, especially when artists have to juggle
additional jobs to support themselves. Instagram is like a whole other job in itself. We
wanted to provide this promotion for female and non-binary artists we believed in, using
the resources we have: a small team, a physical space, and time! And that’s how it all
started, fairly recently. We were overwhelmed by the response we received at our first
event last month and are just so excited to continue and hopefully grow this community.

Could you tell us about your ethos? What change are you hoping to contribute to in the
Scottish arts community?


As we touched on, there is an overwhelming cis white male representation in national and
private galleries across the country, and globe! This is unforgivable to us, considering the
sheer number of female and non-binary artists working and creating, each with a unique
perspective on what they are doing. The canon of art and art history is so deeply flawed, as
with other art forms (film, literature, etc.). We don’t want this institutional bias to affect the
art we choose to engage with.
So first, we want to make the industry more accessible for artists, providing a free gallery
space for female and non-binary artists in the local area. And second, we want to make the
industry more accessible for audiences. You shouldn’t have to have an art school education
to engage with and get something from ‘gallery art’. While Instagram is an amazing tool for
artists and for viewing art relatively easily, and for free, we wanted to provide this same
accessibility in a ‘real’ space. Non-professional artists shouldn’t have to rely solely on this
digital space when café spaces like ours exist in the local area, primed and ready for
exhibition.

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'We want to make sure these artists are being
treated with the gravity and respect they deserve and, for us, that means giving them the
opportunity to stand out, to let the focus be solely on them.'

How did you come to the decision to focus on solo shows?


We decided early on that each monthly artist should be able to take up the space that the
institutional culture is not yet providing. We want to make sure these artists are being
treated with the gravity and respect they deserve and, for us, that means giving them the
opportunity to stand out, to let the focus be solely on them. It shouldn’t take prior
exhibition or industry experience to garner a level of esteem and professionalism from
gallery providers such as ourselves. We are hoping this experience will open up further
opportunities for them in the future, as we are really just a conduit for their success. Part of
this support is making sure the experience is as artist-led as possible, with their needs and
suggestions a priority. The joy for us is seeing it all come to life.


What’s most exciting you about the art and artists that you’ve started to work with as
part of the project?


The two artists we have worked with so far have been absolutely incredible. September’s
artist, Katherine Stanley, is a really remarkable storyteller. They are very much inspired by
Irish folk lore, and create worlds through multi-media projects (film and painting) with

mesmerizingly surreal outcomes. We screened two of Stanley’s shorts at the event, and the
compact space at Babka really added to the world-building experience.

October’s artist, Jenna Waldren, has a very different approach to her art, which is equally
exciting! Waldren documents the mundane, and the relationship between people and their
space. Her series was particularly enhanced by her lockdown experience, acting almost as a
visual autobiography of her domestic life. Created during a period of intense isolation, we
are so excited to exhibit Waldren’s work to the public, an experience in complete contrast
to the works’ process of conception.

 

We are also excited about the community of female and non-binary artists we are beginning
to build around the collective. Although we aim to celebrate the artists’ work in the form of
a solo show, we recognise the artists don’t always have to be individuals working alone in a
studio. They often thrive in a community, creating, sharing ideas, inspiring and supporting
one another. And by creating this safe space where female and non-binary artists can
comfortably come forward and establish that feels great.

Where can out readers find out more?

 

We create an accompanying zine for each exhibition we put on, so that is a great place to
start! Each artists’ work is accompanied by two additional artists’ responses to their themes
in a different style, which has been a great way to explore and enhance understanding of
concepts and ideas. Our zine is currently on sale at Typewronger Books and on our online
shop. For everything else, follow us on Instagram: @thehencollective!

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