HEO is the Anglo Saxon word for “SHE”. Evoking images of historical heroines it is also the title for our self portrait exhibition. Twenty female artists from South London Women Artists are taking part in this exhibition which opens in early January 2020, in an exciting new art space at the Omnibus Theatre, which has recently been refurbished.
Described as a Show of Strength, HEO celebrates Female Empowerment and the Self Image. It is the first event in the SLWA calendar for 2020 and the intention is to start the new year with new hope and new energy by embracing creativity and Sacred Feminine Wisdom.
By taking control of our own image we are rejecting the objectifying of women. We cease to be the object and become the subject. Even the humble selfie, should not be vilified, for it is an expression of creative freedom and a celebration of one’s own image. The subtext of Empowerment in this context of the self portrait is Self Acceptance and Self Knowledge (Knowing Your Own Story) and the intention is to portray these powerful tools as catalysts for living a successful life to its highest potential. The act of ‘looking at’ and ‘seeing’ oneself, then reproducing and ‘owning’ your self image is both a technical challenge as well as an existential one and we commend our artists for their skill and creativity in tackling this emotive subject. 
Words as well as pictures will be important themes at the Private View on Monday 6th January and Dr Mary Jacob BSc MA PHD, will speak, adding an academic insight into the subject of Female Empowerment. Dr Mary Jacob is a Jungian Based Movement Therapist, Teacher and Lecturer in Social Sciences and Practitioner in many disciplines including Yoga, Complimentary Therapies and Mindfulness. The Rye Poets, Helen Adie, Joan Byrne and Pia Goddard, a trio who perform their potent, fast-paced combination of self-penned wit, wisdom and pathos in a unique ensemble style will perform a set of poems for the occasion.
HEO is the final exhibition in a trilogy of themed exhibitions, featuring South London Women Artists, curated by Claire Dorey, Maria Beddoes and Selena Steele, (Valerie Lambert co-curated Silence Is Over). In the trilogy the subject matter has ‘flowed’ and ‘evolved’ from one exhibition to the next. The three exhibitions stand alone as individual projects, however it is the intention that when presented as a series of three they provide a useful body of work raising awareness on difficult subjects that impact women’s lives. Silence Is Over raised awareness on the silencing women through abuse, violence, and coercive control. Ex Voto dealt with trauma as well as offering creative solutions and a pathway out of suffering by looking at one strand of existential art therapy, Finally HEO points at success and positive outcomes via the self image and Female Empowerment. 
South London Women Artists (SLWArtists) is a critically acclaimed group of visual artists living and working in South London and exhibiting both internationally and in the UK. A not-for-profit unincorporated association, managed and run by its members, all of whom volunteer their time and expertise, it is self- financed and independent. 
Launched by The Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery in response to their Insight Lecture Series on Women Artists (2008), South London Women Artists was initially a website created and run for six months to showcase the work of women artists living in Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham – developed by Jenny Sweeney (chair of The Friends) and artist Léonie Cronin. The enthusiasm for the website was so great that a  strong community of artists soon developed into a women’s collective.
Never afraid to tackle difficult subjects, the first exhibition in the trilogy was called Silence Is Over and was exhibited at the Portico Gallery in West Norwood in 2018. In Silence Is Over female artists had their say on a blank canvas on the subject of coercive control and sexual abuse. The canvases were assembled into two billboards to create a wall of unity. Traditionally used  for advertising, often objectifying women, the billboards served as a reclaimed space where the female voice could be heard. 
At the time of the exhibition the ‘Weinstein’ ripple effect and the #Me Too movement were gaining momentum, raising awareness and encouraging open conversation on the subject of abuse, a practice that can often be hidden within plain sight. The idea for using billboards referenced SaveArtSpace: The Future Is Female, The Guerrilla Girls and themes explored in the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. The artists who took part offered insights from diverse professional back grounds and were united in the belief that engaging with the subject will help to create a healthier society.
The private View was both an Exhibition and an Event. The Rye Poets performed hard hitting and poignant poems about abuse which ‘silenced’ and moved the audience.  DJ Ben Smith played a wonderfully witty playlist of female anthems and local hero, acoustic guitarist Max Warner and jazz singer Talibah Rivers performed two sets of moody and moving tunes.
Silence Is Over gained momentum, attracting attention for the difficult subject matter it dealt with, so the curators decided to put on another exhibition, Ex Voto – Violence and Healing, this time in collaboration with Consultant Psychotherapist John Adlam and Professor Wayne Martin, with reference to the book Violent States and Creative States (2018) and in support of the important role that Ex Voto can play in Existential Therapeutic Work, via the themes of trauma, spirituality and gratitude, as explored in Chapter 16 of Volume 2 of the book
Ex Voto was shown at Upstairs at The Ritzy in Brixton in 2019 and the artwork by SLWArtists explored this Mexican Folk Art tradition depicting individual misfortunes and expressions of gratitude for divine healing. 
“An ex voto retablo is a distinctively Mexican form of religious folk art [ ] in which the victim of the trauma expresses gratitude for a miraculous intervention. Violence (whether feared or actual) is a common theme in ex voto paintings, which portray (inter alia) executions, lynchings and assaults. The form has recently been used to explore violence associated with Mexican drug trafficking”
At the private view both John and Wayne gave engaging speeches about the book and the chapter on Ex Voto, creating an academic backdrop to the art work. Local musician Max Warner teamed up with Simon Stalley to play acoustic guitar and create a soothing backdrop for this buoyant event.
To create is to access divine energy and transformations of a profound nature can happen. The journey we have portrayed, from trauma, through healing, to empowerment, over three exhibitions is a celebration of individual self reflection, tenacity and creativity: a Show of Strength.
List of participating artists: Angele Lautier, Barbara Veena Scialo, Caroline Macey, Chrissy Thirlaway, Claire Dorey, Edori Fertig, Helen Adie, Jennifer Merrell, Julie Bennett, Karen J Smith, Karen Piddington, Kate Redfern, Ky Lewis, Liz Dalton, Maggie Lloyd, Maria Beddoes, Marnie Pitts, Pia Goddard, Selena Steele, Zoe Powell.
Self Portrait Exhibition by South London Women Artists
The Omnibus Theatre. 1 Clapham Common Northside SW4 0QW
Exhibition Monday 6th January – Friday 31st January
Private View Monday 6th January 2020 – 7-9pm


Main Photo: Claire Dorey