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The Hotham Street Ladies consists of five women including Cassandra Chilton, Molly O’Shaugnessy, Sarah Parkes, Caroline Price and Lyndal Walker, who collectively produce art together. Their works span across a range of mediums including street art, installations, public art, recipe books and cakes with their primary materials including icing, fondant, buttercream icing, royal icing, food colouring and gum-paste. Working collaboratively, their practice embraces themes of home life, feminism and craft in a humorous and critical manner.

Known for their provocative street art and public art commissions, as well as their unconventional entries into the Royal Melbourne Show cake competitions, the Ladies have been causing a stir on the local Melbourne art scene by pushing the boundaries and raising issues of gender and feminism through their works. Their latest and most ambitious project, At Home with the Hotham Street Ladies (2013), was exhibited in the National Gallery of Victoria foyer and consisted of two large lounge and dining rooms and a connecting hall. The corridor’s floor featured a nine-metre-long hall-runner, made entirely of hardened icing in many colours as well as a full dining table of dirty dishes and food scraps- entirely constructed from icing. At Home with the Hotham Street Ladies is concerned with notions of nostalgia and themes about domesticity, consumerism and the possibilities of artistic expression.

One of their most provocative works, You Beaut (2013), exhibited in the male toilets at the Victorian College of the Arts, features a large-scale iced vagina leading to a pool of menstrual blood. Despite it’s graphic nature, the work is surprisingly un-intimidating due to the connotations associated with the medium of icing. You Beaut, successfully pushes the boundaries existing within contemporary society and raises clear notions of gender equality and female sexuality. For the Hotham Street Ladies, icing is not only used as a material but is used conceptually. Their works provoke conversation about women and their place in society whilst appearing sweet, pretty and hardly threatening. As Sarah Parkes stated, “we try to be subversive, but everything we make tends to end up looking quite pretty.” However, their installations are heavily layered with notions of gender inequality and successfully provoke conversation regarding the conflict surrounding working women existing in contemporary society.

In 2010 the group participated in the annual Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria, cake-decorating competition at the Royal Melbourne Show. Their cake, entitled Miss Havisham, inspired by the wedding cake in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, was disqualified from the Royal Melbourne Show as it was “in bad taste” and “should be pleasing to the eye.” Moldy, eaten away by vermin, and overrun by maggots, the work represents the decaying institution of marriage. Their participation in such a rigid and typically female dominated competition, proves quite interesting. On one hand it appears they are mocking the establishment and the practice, yet simultaneously their involvement communicates the ability for women to participate in such typically feminine crafts whilst proving to be provocative feminist artists.

With their unconventional use of materials, the Hotham Street Ladies have successfully created an intriguing art practice that successfully questions the role of women in a contemporary society, the meaning of domesticity and issues regarding gender roles. Making the statement that female worth is not judged on the cleanliness of a household or whether their cakes or installations are ‘pleasing to the eye,’ their works successfully communicate that women can participate in typical domestic crafts without being subservient.


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