Answering ageism with art

Posted on 16 Aug 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Dabgraphixs Winning Artwork 1

The power of art is being harnessed to help break down the barrier of ageism and foster inclusivity.

Public art competition Art Against Ageism aims to celebrate the “beauty and diverse capabilities of older people,” fostering an environment that rejects marginalization and elder abuse.

By encouraging entries, the initiative uses art as a medium to reject negative stereotypes about ageing and instead showcase and embrace the wisdom and experiences of older adults.

Polish mum
'Dancing Celebraions' by Polish artist Joanna Rajtar, whose piece shows someone having fun and dancing whilst cooking.

Now in its third year, the event is organised by Victorian based not-for-profit organisation Australian Multicultural Community Services (AMCS).

Participants are encouraged to enter works in any of five categories:

  • Painting
  • Drawings
  • Photography
  • Graphic Design
  • AI-generated Imagery

AMCS CEO Elizabeth Drozd OAM said the competition challenges people to think about the way they see and stereotype others.

“It is a creative way to confront our own prejudices, discuss them with family and friends, and actively make different choices to improve our society,” she said.

Aboriginal elders
'Ancestors' by indigenous artist and proud descendant of the Biripi people of New South Wales mid-North Coast Jack Forbes-Walker. The painting depicts the continuous relationship Aboriginal people have with their elders after they die. The four Elder spirits watch over the green section representing the community.

“The more examples that we see that break these stereotypes, the easier it becomes to question and challenge these assumptions.”

A 2021 report by the Australian Human Rights Commission titled What’s age got to do with it? A snapshot of ageism across the Australian Lifespan revealed 90% of people agreed that ageism exists.

'Defying Lifelong Expectations' Artist Amruta Kangutkar's depiction of their mother Nanammal, a saree-clad Indian yoga teacher who continued practicing until the age of 99. She trained more than one million students during her 45 year career.

Sadly, an estimated 63% had experienced ageism personally.

Ms Drozd said the statistics confirm ageism is pervasive and generally accepted within Australian society.

“It can be overt or hidden within subtle jokes. It’s also something that can be (and is) experienced by people of all ages,” she said.

“It’s a joke making an assumption about your abilities based on your age.

“It’s the job you don’t get because of perceived inexperience…or too much experience.

“It’s the looks and comments you receive when you do something ‘surprising for your age.’”

2022 competition winner ''Forever Caring,' inspired by the artists grandparents, who they believed could do anything.

Ms Drozd said AMCS has supported people as a NFP organisation for more than 40 years and came up with the idea for Art Against Ageism in 2021 as a way of combatting negative stereotypes around ageing.

“As a Home Care Package provider, we are on the front lines of senior age discrimination and it is therefore incumbent upon us to advocate for those we support,” she said.

For that reason, the variety and quality of entries received each year warm Ms Drozd’ heart.

In 2022 they ranged from exuberant depictions of a Polish mother dancing while cooking to a 99-year-old sari clad Indian yoga teacher and a depiction of the relationship Aboriginal people have with their elders after they die.

Ms Drozd said she hoped encouraging artists to enter the competition will be a catalyst for people to work together to combat ageism and promote a more compassionate society.

“Regardless of age, Australians experience ageism as one of the most commonly accepted forms of discrimination,” she said.

“I am always excited to see entries [to the competition] come through. The creativity of the artists is amazing and thought provoking.”

Competition details

Entries to Art Against Ageism are now open.

To be eligible, participants must submit their entries by uploading them to the AMCS website or via email at [email protected] by September 10.

The winning entry will receive $1000 with $500 awarded as second prize.

The judging panel includes representatives from AMCS, National Seniors Australia, Elder Rights Advocacy, EveryAge Counts and the Municipal Association of Victoria.

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