The Abbotsford Convent comes alive in pictures

The Abbotsford Convent is a rich artistic treasure nestled in suburbia. Spread over 16 acres, it was once identified as the biggest religious institution in the Southern Hemisphere. It now boasts a diverse artistic aura and is a breath of fresh air in the midst of a gentrified pocket of Melbourne.

The Abbotsford Convent is currently undergoing huge renovations to improve its image as a cultural hub. According to the Abbotsford Convent Foundation Business Plan, only 60 per cent of the Convent’s buildings, grounds and gardens are presently usable. In 2015, the Federal Government announced that the Abbotsford Convent Foundation (ACF) would receive a challenge grant of $2.68 million from the National Stronger Regions Fund (NSRF) to renovate the 3600 square metre building and surrounding land, according to the Abbotsford Convent website.

The photos that follow walk you through the Convent’s invaluable artistic community, home to artists, art galleries, educational workshops, markets and much much more.

The Abbotsford Convent houses at least one hundred artists, writers, creatives and wellbeing practitioners. This studio belongs to Asphyxia, an artist and writer who draws and paints exceptional dolls. Many of the artists welcome visitors, so knock on the door and say hello. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli
Artist Ralf Kempken has expanded his studio over the past few years as he increases the size of his artwork. Predominantly consisting of children’s faces and landscapes of Melbourne’s CBD, you may have seen his artwork installed around the Yarra. Read this YR article for an in-depth look at Ralf’s work. Photo: Catlin Matticoli
Ralf is working on his latest three-layered stencil artwork depicting the iconic Collins Street landscape in Melbourne’s CBD. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
The Australian Government bought the Convent off a developer in the 1990’s. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
The Contemplative Garden is regularly maintained by gardeners and landscapers. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
The Abbotsford Convent has a calming aura about it. There are endless hidden spaces to sit alone or in company. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
The Convent started out as a safe place for nuns and girls in the late 1800’s. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
There are now hundreds of tenants that occupy the offices, workshops and art spaces on the ground. These rustic legs were made by fibre artist Wendy Golden who has a studio in the convent. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
At its peak, the Convent housed 1,000 women and children on its fully self-sufficient property and farm land. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
While walking through the Abbotsford Convent, you will find a few of these money boxes requesting funding. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
Stone pillars. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
Every nook is covered in art. This photo was taken in the ladies toilets beside popular pay-as-you-feel restaurant Lentil as Anything. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
A handful of catering companies are located inside the Abbotsford Convent. One of them set up this fantastic table setting for a wedding held the same afternoon this photo was captured. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.
Art installation found inside the Convent, hanging from an old staircase. Artist unknown. Photo: Caitlin Matticoli.

Written and photographed by Caitlin Matticoli

The children are watching us

Talented artist and father of four, Ralf Kempken, has used a grant awarded to him from the Yarra Council’s public art styles program to install historically inspired art work of children, with a major focus on their eyes, around the City of Yarra.

His latest concept “Past Futures” involves using stencils to create art installations depicting the idea of nature vs nurture in human development.

His four children aged 20, 21, 23 and 26 are the inspiration for this series of work.

“Having children makes you look at your own upbringing. I used to be a very strong believer that nurture played a bigger role than nature, but I noticed character traits in [my children] similar to mine and my wife’s that presented from day one.” 

Ralf prefers using children’s eyes in public spaces because they represent our future, and adult eyes appear “too threatening.”

Ralf’s street art uses eyes as a motif. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

Ralf believes that nature and nurture both play an important role in the development of a child, and has combined this idea with the use of stencils to represent the “psychological filter” that each of us possess, which, he says, is often inherited at birth. 

“Many people don’t realise that there is no actual image placed behind the cut out filter I create – they are just squiggly lines and paint. The human brain pieces together the entire image on its own, and this is the precise process that I wish to explore in my art work.”

This idea, combined with the inclusion of past images, work in unison to make a commentary on the connection between our past, present and future. A child’s curious and innocent state of mind is consistent throughout the ages, irrespective of the century.

Ralf Kempken’s ‘Past Futures’ exhibition is currently displayed at Carlton North Library until September. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

The historical photographs, donated by Yarra Libraries and a primary school in Fitzroy, depict early 20th century children and concentrate on eyes from varied backgrounds such as Asian, Indigenous Australian, and European.

Ralf says the choice to include different cultures in his local art work is: “a comment on suburbs [like Fitzroy, Richmond and Collingwood] that have changed through immigration and multiculturalism.”

Ralf, who was born in Germany himself is living proof of how lucky we are to live in such a culturally diverse country.

The premise of classic Italian film “The Children are Watching Us”, released in 1944, helped to inspire “Past Futures”. The film follows the story of a very young boy left with his heartbroken father after being abandoned by his unfaithful mother. It explores how well children can absorb their surroundings and make their own moral judgements despite what their parents or carers may think.

“Watching”, part of the “Past Futures” installations, is located at the entrance gates of the Abbotsford Convent where Ralf’s studio is located and contains an old photograph of a child taken in the early 1900’s.

“This piece is rather momento mori- esque, or in other words: a reminder that everyone must die. It’s a reminder that everything is transient,” says Ralf.

‘Watching’ stencil art by Ralf Kempken at the entrance of the Abbotsford Covent. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

You can find Ralf Kempken’s “Past Futures” installations in various parts of the Yarra.

Check out his stencil screen made of aluminium located in front of Dimmeys in Richmond. The piece contains an old photo of various children from Fitzroy during the migration period.

Kempken says that he has similar images displayed in his installations in West Footscray and Richmond.

Ralf uses images from the early 20th century to depict a connection between past, present and future generations. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

As a part of the Light Box Program, an art initiative from Yarra City Art, Kempken’s stencil art is being displayed at Carlton North Library until September this year. You can find more information at Yarra City Arts or check out Ralf’s art portfolio on his website to learn more.

Written by Caitlin Matticoli

Recognising 100 years of Maternal and Child Health services through art

This month a series of art murals are being installed around the City of Yarra in celebration of 100 years of Maternal and Child Health services.

Yarra City Arts and the Maternal and Child Health Service of the City of Yarra have partnered up to develop an Art Trail, featuring a series of pop-up artworks installed around the Yarra at different Maternal and Child Health (MCH) centres, from June 30.

Commissioned by the Yarra City Council, the purpose of the Art Trail is to acknowledge and celebrate the history of MCH services and the importance of the centres to local communities. The Art Trail is a part of the project #100MCH, which is currently being curated by experienced historian Cassie May.

The centenary is being celebrated through art because, “Art communicates to everyone, [and shows] how important the service is, and how it started 100 years ago [but] is still relevant today,” said curator, Cassie May.

Kitty Owens, All Hail Sister Muriel Peck, 2017, vinyl print at Princess Hill Maternal and Child Health Centre.Photo: Yarra Arts

Working alongside Cassie May, to create the Art Trail, are artists Kitty Owens and Lizzie Dennis.

Both Kitty Owens and Lizzie Dennis were brought onto the project because of their personal experience with the MCH services and their ability to empathise with families and new mothers using the MCH services.

“I knew that they could feel [and] express and funnel [their emotions and empathy] into a single piece of content, [and] it’s delightful to see that they enjoy their work,” said Cassie.

The Art Trail takes the public on a tour of the sites located in the Yarra where MCH services were initially set up and still exist today. Each site tells a different story through the painted or paste-up art pieces.

“We draw the public’s attention to those spaces in a new way.  Not only is some of the history of the sites exposed, through Kitty Owen’s historical paste-ups (Love Them Back) for instance, but the sites are also reinvigorated,” said artist Lizzie Dennis.

“[The] contemporary painting of simple line work (located at the MCH centre, South Richmond) may not be seen at first glance, but hopefully the discovery of the imagery provides a happy moment of reflection and perhaps even memory back to those crawling, feeding, playing and reading moments, and in turn the appreciation for the amazing maternal and child health services we are lucky to have,” she said.

Kitty Owens, All Hail the Campaigners. Photo: Yarra Arts

The Maternal and Child Health Service of today is an invaluable resource for families with children from birth to school age. It not only promotes healthy outcomes but provides free practical support and advice.

The purpose of the service is to reduce the high death rate of babies in the inner city suburbs of Melbourne, providing free practical advice to mothers and families regarding nutrition, breastfeeding, hygienic preparation of milk, and mothercraft, according to the Yarra City Art website.

“The value of the MCH service and the need to acknowledge those that established the service and continue to provide the service today [is important].  As a mother of one and [with] one on the way, I have directly experienced the help and assistance that the Maternal and Child Health Care services provide, and understand the necessity for such services,” said Lizzie Dennis.

The 10 buildings that will be included as part of the Art Trail are:

-Abbotsford/Collingwood Maternal and Child Health Centre

-Alphington Maternal and Child Health Centre

-Connie Benn Centre

-Princes Hill Maternal and Child Health Centre

-North Fitzroy Maternal and Child Health Centre

-North Richmond Maternal and Child Health Centre

-South Richmond Maternal and Child Health Centre

-Gold Street Children’s Centre

-Baby Health Centre

You can follow the project on Instagram @YarraCityArts #100MCH to track the artworks at each location.

Written by Zathia Bazeer

Emerging Melbourne artists are coming together for a 10 day cultural festival in the Yarra

This month a collection of refugee and culturally diverse artists and performers are coming together for the annual Emerge in Yarra festival.

Thanks to Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV), as part of the Community Cultural Development (CCD) program for “culturally and linguistically diverse emerging and refugee artists and communities in Victoria” a plethora of cultural talents will be showcased in the City of Yarra.

This year’s Emerge in Yarra festival will present 10 events over 10 days and will include a delicious array of cultural food, amazing performances, and enriching cultural experiences; expect language lessons along with innovative musical experiences. There really is something for everyone.

Event organiser Frejya MacFarlane has experienced the enriching culture surrounding Emerge. Having been involved in several MAV events over the past couple of years, she expresses the importance of hosting events like Emerge in Yarra festival.

“It’s all about developing relationships with emerging refugee communities and giving them a platform to be more involved in the arts and developing programs,” she said.

Emerge artists and performers hail from all walks of life, each with a story to share with their Yarra community. Neda Rahmani is a seasoned professional performer and has been involved with MAV since around 1999.

This year Neda is heading up her favourite festival session: Cookin’ up Community, held at the Collingwood Community Kitchen on Tuesday, July 4, at 7.30 pm. Cookin’ up Community unites a cultural cooking experience with music, songs, and stories from distant homelands.

In a collaboration like no other, the Cookin’ up Community session will blend the Iran/Persian culinary roots of  Neda Rahmani with Saba Alemayoh’s East African cuisine, to represent the unique meals passed down from their mothers.

“My cuisine is a great mélange of different flavours and I can’t wait to see what happens when we put each other’s dishes side by side,” Neda said.

“We all have to eat. We all share that human need to nourish and I think people are interested in learning something new and witnessing something new,” she said.

This year’s Emerge in Yarra festival is bringing about the importance of welcoming and learning about new cultures that live right around us.

Art by I-Yen (Molly). Photo: Emerge.

Molly Chen, a new visual artist on the Emerge scene is particularly excited to showcase her collaboration with Yumemi Hiraki at The Ownership Project in Fitzroy. Their exhibit will showcase spatial installations in a “home setting” and elevate the discussion of history surrounding their blend of Taiwanese (Molly) and Japanese (Yumemi) backgrounds.

“It’s a very storytelling exhibition and I expect everyone to come and find it very playful, funny and delightful, but at the same time have a strong feeling surrounding discussion about the trauma and the history in our show,” Miss Chen said.

With a medium cultivated by the artists and their cultural values, Emerge in Yarra will be the ultimate cultural experience for 2017. The 10-day festival will bring forth stories of courage, and events that serve a strong purpose in bringing the community together.

For a full list of programs occurring in Emerge in Yarra 2017, click here.

Written by Grace Evans 


Submissions for Emerge 2017 are coming to a close

Call outs to get involved in the City of Yarra’s most inclusive celebration of multicultural arts and music, Emerge 2017, are coming to a close this Friday.

Created in 2004, in conjunction with Multicultural Arts Victoria’s (MAV) Visible Music Mentoring Program, Emerge 2017 started out as a humble arts festival and has grown into an all-encompassing series of art and music events taking place across the Yarra for one week at the end of June.

Emerge 2017 welcomes innovative music and art submissions from artists in the Yarra and provides an outstanding opportunity for newly arrived refugees and emerging communities to get involved in telling their stories and connecting with the community.

We spoke to Joel Ma, one of the creative producers, about all that is coming from this year’s event.

“It’s about opening up communities and neighbourhoods to the multicultural personalities and diversity that is around them and we often take for granted… and within that is this rich amount of human story and experience that we can all benefit from and embrace,” he said.

Cookin’ Up Community with South Sudanese spoken word poet Abe Nouk and South Sudanese singer Ajak Kwai (held at the Fitzroy Community Kitchen). Photo: James Henry Photography

“MAV gravitates towards innovative ideas and artistic pursuits,” he says,“The other side of [Emerge 2017] is to create amazing art, for us it’s about finding artists within [the Yarra] who represent all groups… to come together and collaborate and try ideas out and connect with where they live now.”

Emerge 2017 is also pushing the boundaries of the mainstream music scene by challenging expectations of many mainstream musicians who are of the notion that multicultural arts and music can’t be separated from the traditional.

“From the music perspective, I’m very interested in the idea that multiculturalism includes more than just a traditional view of art or view of music. It can sometimes be engaged with traditional instruments, but that could be offset with electronics or contemporary music collaboration… And that is where you’ll find the most popular music of today,” said Joel.

With a philosophy of celebrating the positive contributions of newly arrived refugee groups, and embracing diverse art and music in the Yarra community, Emerge 2017 is definitely something we can get behind.

In its 13th year and thriving with strong connections to community leaders and cultural groups, Emerge 2017 is only expected to continue to cultivate its invaluable contribution to the community.

The submission deadline is 5 pm Friday the 5th of May, with all submissions going to Freja Macfarlane at

Urban Campfires exhibition showcasing new art at NJC

The City of Yarra is home to a multitude of emerging and established artists, continually producing powerful and engaging bodies of work. And with the launch of the 2017 Urban Campfires exhibition at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre in Collingwood, many of these artists get the chance to tell their stories alongside each other.

Changing up every six months, the Urban Campfires exhibition calls for artworks produced by artists in Yarra to reflect the exciting diversity of the area, while simultaneously providing a great location for amateur and professional artists to showcase their work.

Community Engagement & Communications Coordinator at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC), Ann Strunks, says that many of the benefits of the exhibition are quite subtle.

“Urban Campfires may seem a crazy way to give people a say in justice,” she said, “but art is a very powerful form of communication, and it’s another way we listen to the heartbeat of Yarra.”

The NJC is a holistic justice centre, according to Strunks, where you will find a multi-jurisdictional court, treatment agencies, community-based crime prevention teams, defence and police prosecution teams.

“Our court goes a step further than the average Magistrates’ Court as we give people on the downward spiral of offending the treatment services and support they need to turn their lives around,” said Strunks.

In addition to the NJC’s commitment to solving the problems associated with criminal behaviour, the NJC openly supports everyone in the community. Urban Campfires is just one other way they are making Yarra a more welcoming and safe space.

“Over the years, newly arrived asylum seekers have shown incredibly moving work [for the Urban Campfires exhibition], exploring the search for home and peace, and people living under the shadow of Alzheimer’s have crafted work that’s explored how the mind works when thoughts are as ephemeral as butterflies,” Strunks said.

“And of course, a lot of artists create art that’s simply exuberant, particularly the children from local schools and playgroups. The NJC is probably the only court to display art made entirely of cotton buds, sparkles, and ice-cream sticks!” she said.

The 2017 exhibition launching in April is produced by BANH Inc., a community support service for the most disadvantaged in the City of Yarra.

Leading the exhibition is Curator Laila Costa, who is aiming to show artwork that really explores social justice issues.

“I am always on the lookout for edgy, kooky and envelope-pushing art,” she said.

Although the exhibition is going strong, with more than a couple of extraordinary past exhibitions, Costa would like to widen the scope to include more community engagement and experimental projects.

“There are so many possibilities to reach out and collaborate to make creative works that inspire, educate and increase well-being,” she said.

The NJC is Australia’s only community justice centre and is showing that this innovative way of tying community interests closely to a justice system is helping community members in a big way.

“I would like there to be many more Neighbourhood Justice Centres rolled out across the country as it deals with justice in a progressive and innovative manner. The data and statistics prove it works better than the traditional justice system and all sectors of community benefit,” Costa said.

To find out more about the Community Justice Model, head here. The NJC provides a ‘Reflections on Practice’ piece, which, the website says, will “explore the flexibility and transferability of community justice.”

To check out the Urban Campfires exhibition, head to the Neighbourhood Justice Centre in Collingwood. The current exhibition will run for a further 6 months.

Written by Roxanne Fitzgerald.

Who run the world? Girls

That’s right as the queen herself Beyonce said, girls do run the world.

This year Last Minute Productions and Stayfly Sydney are hosting the movie screening of Girl Power, on February 24 at Grumpy’s Green in Fitzroy, the first documentary about the incredible lives of female graffiti and street artists around the world.

The film has been selected from thousands of applicants to be a part of the 19th SEOUL Women’s Film Festival, happening this year.

Following Czech graffiti artist and writer Sany, who decided in 2009 to capture female emancipation in graffiti on film, Girl Power presents stories from across the world encapsulating the successes and challenges of females who have dedicated their lives to graffiti and street art in a male-dominated community.

Last Minute Productions Music Coordinator Jurnan Thorn said, “Girl Power highlights and profiles women in the art formats of painting steel and street art.”

Miss Thorn connected with Sany when she came to Australia to film parts of Girl Power. In an effort to bring the documentary to Melbourne, Last Minute Productions and Stayfly Sydney stepped in to help.

Girl Power is set to open up the discussion surrounding graffiti being perceived as vandalism and the way graffiti has been portrayed as a male dominated art expression.

Street artist and owner of Juddy Roller, a creative street art and graffiti management company in Fitzroy, Shaun Hossack said, “Females are super important to the industry, but hugely underrepresented.”

When asked about Girl Power, Hossack said, “I think anything that presents woman as equal participants in any industry is going to be positive for everyone, and there’s obviously a movement happening and an awakening within people.”

If you’re all for equal representation, exceptional films and live music, Girl Power will not disappoint. The screening will also include live artists and performers such as Wonqi Rose ft Miss Money Toast and LADY LASH.

Head here to book your tickets for Girl Power.

Written by Grace Evans