Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Onside: sport as culture:

A new and powerful exhibition on women in sport showcases its role as an important part of community life and culture.
By Kiersten Fishburn
Date: February 16 2013
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Gymnasium – Tarryn Gill and Pillar Mata Dupont 2010.

I don’t have many regrets, yet, about my life. But one thing that I am surprised to find, as I turn 40, is that I do seriously regret never really playing or participating in any form of sport.  Having spent my career in the arts and my leisure time in darkened cinemas, engrossed in a book or at a gallery this urge to toss around a ball, pull on running shoes or dive into a pool has come as something as a surprise.

Art and sport are often considered to be in opposition to each other. You can be interested in the arts, but not sporty; athletic but not engaged in a gallery. This either/or thinking even extends to arguing about funding and media attention as though both are not elements of a full rich culture and community.

At Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre we have always been interested in sport – it plays such a significant role in our local community with many active participants and spectators. It has never seemed as though an arts centre should not deal with sport – both disciplines require commitment, dedication, years of training and experience, and both inspire passionate support, or dislike. However, there have been some raised eyebrows in the arts sector when we’ve talked about these projects – a slight sense that we aren’t dealing with serious topics if we look at sport, and that the quality of the exhibition or artworks displayed isn’t quite of the highest standard.

Over the last few years, we have engaged with NRL culture significantly, and have been fortunate to work with many players on collaborative and creative projects. The response from our audiences showed that there is a real interest in exploring the intersection of arts and sport and that using themes of sport can be an excellent way to open up and democratise the gallery space.

Watching many young women visit the Centre, we were inspired to think about the ways that we could explore the relationship and issues affecting women in sport. This incredibly potent topic – bringing in themes of identify, gender, representation, sexualisation and power – had surprisingly been little explored in a contemporary art setting despite some significant artists working to investigate these issues.

From the empowering photomedia of Anne Zahalka, to the sharply humorous and politicised works of Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont, through personal engagement with the physical such as Jodie Whalen’s endurance art, and the iconographic images of Australian sportswomen – strong and proud – there have been so many artists who have contributed to thinking about women in sport. 

From this inspiration we have developed an exhibitionOnside as part of a broadwomen in sport initiative. Both have an unashamedly political agenda, in so much as they are intended to open up a broader discussion about some of the issues that impact on sportswomen and women involved in the sporting world.

As the curatorial team researched both artists working in this field and the history of Australian sportswomen, we also became more inspired and passionate about the initiative and providing access to a different way of engaging with sport, and with art. And we also found that while the arts community can be a little sniffy about sport, the women’s sporting groups and sportspeople we worked with were enthused and committed to the idea of exploring sports issues through contemporary art.

As an arts professional, this was an insight into the fact that the arts world may not be as liberal and all accepting as it might seem! We do have a few things to learn from the sporting world!

Working within the context of a contemporary arts centre, we wanted to honour all these strong, courageous, dedicated sportswomen, many of them breaking new ground or fighting for their rights. We hope that Onside provides a challenge and a stimulus to discussion about women and sport and that instead of situating arts and sport in opposition, the exhibition invites consideration of sport as a theme and topic that deserves to be seriously explored and considered in the arts.

And as for my new found interest in sport? Well I’ve booked a horse ride and into yoga classes – not quite playing in a team or challenging a personal best but it is still quite a radical life style change and a new way of thinking about myself as a physical as well as artistic person.  

I’m certainly not alone at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Everyone who has worked on this project has reminisced about the great experiences and sheer physical satisfaction that they got from sports at school or as part of a team. It has invigorated us, and we hope it will audiences, to start re-engaging with sport, to acknowledge it as part of a well rounded life.  


The Casula Powerhouse Art Centre’s Women in Sport program includes the:

  • Onside Exhibition (9 February – 24 March) – a landmark contemporary exhibition that showcases a collection of artworks that look at women and sport. The artists involved in the Onside exhibition capture the treatment of this topical subject that has not been significantly explored by a contemporary arts venue.
  • Women in Sport Forum (15 & 16 March) – A two-day forum led by high-profile speakers and representatives from the sporting an arts industries discussing the Onside exhibition, women’s participation in sport, the role of parenting an athlete, the relationship between sport and art, femininity in sport, and sponsorship.

For more information phone Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre on 02 9821 1121 or visit

Below:  Layne Beachley by Petrina Hicks, 2008 (courtesy National Portrait Gallery)


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