Young at art: An exploration of ageism

A new exhibition in Adelaide tackles the notion of ageism in the arts, exploring what it means to be judged on your age – whether young or old.

Jun 17, 2024, updated Jun 17, 2024
Andrea Przygonski with her work "At the Core", featuring morse code etched into acrylic tubes. Photo: Michael Haines / supplied

Andrea Przygonski with her work "At the Core", featuring morse code etched into acrylic tubes. Photo: Michael Haines / supplied

It was at an art exhibition several months ago that curator dré fuzz first began to think about the issue of ageism in the arts. Fuzz, curator at praxis ARTSPACE in Bowden, had two separate conversations that night that triggered something.

“One was with a younger artist and one with an older artist, where both were complaining about some sort of discrimination they were experiencing linked to their age,” fuzz says.

“The younger one was complaining they were missing opportunities and were not being taken seriously… whereas the older artist was saying, ‘No one is taking me seriously because I’m too old’.

“It was just interesting to me to be confronted with these kinds of two opposing discourses on the same subject and I thought, if everyone is being affected like this, on both ends of the spectrum, then this is problematic. And as this is a topic that goes well beyond the arts sector, I thought it was something we needed to explore.”

Inspired by these conversations, fuzz curated a new exhibition, YOUTH: Exploring Age as a Phenomenon and Ageism in the Arts, which has just opened at praxis ARTSPACE. Eight artists were invited to take part, ranging in age from their late 20s to late 80s.

Curator dré fuzz has curated the YOUTH exhibition.

“From where I’m standing, ageism is alive and well,” says one of the artists, Andrea Przygonski, 63.

“It can be a complicated issue to navigate. It can be applied to any age group, though it is more likely to be perpetuated against older people. For me, it has definitely been a more noticeable and frequent experience as I’ve aged, and sadly the arts are not immune.

“As with many women artists, I wasn’t in a position to really concentrate on my creativity until I was in my 40s and it’s been a battle ever since. That is not to say I haven’t had some excellent opportunities and experiences, but the wins are small against the huge efforts required to be seen. It’s no small wonder, then, that so many artists fall by the wayside.

“As with any form of discrimination, ageism is extremely subtle, and not often talked about openly, but you know it’s going on as you’re continually overlooked and then expected to feed on the platitudes of rejection.

“People might say, ‘well you’re not talented enough’ or ‘it’s sour grapes’ or ‘it’s a competitive business and it’s all part of the job, toughen up’. This is just another way to silence.”

Przygonski, who trained as a printmaker at the Adelaide Central School of Art and also has a masters degree in fine arts, has created three pieces for this exhibition: Armada – What Lies Beneath, a triptych screen print featuring photoluminescent pigments; At the Core, featuring morse code etched into acrylic tubes, and a colourful piece called Time Travel.

“Time Travel is comprised of  63 individual miniature works to make the whole,” Przygonski says. “I’m 63 and these are the colours of my years. Vignettes of a memory or feeling as I look back. Mementos of times past, seeing youth fade and age creep in. Small joys towards impermanence.”

Some of the phrases injected into At the Core in morse code include “Too old”, “Too young”, “Will I ever be enough?”, “My age should not matter to you”, “Your hidden disapproval echoes in my soul” and “Dare to be you”.

The messaging in Przygonski’s Armada – What Lies Beneath says “I am here, yet invisible. What appears on the surface is not always a reflection of the underneath and hidden signals in our actions and words either build or erode the whole. Mostly now the cloak of invisibility covers me”.

Cassie Thring’s The Most Welcome of the Gods. Photo: Rosina Possingham / supplied

Fuzz says the more he spoke to people about this topic, the more he heard stories of women artists being discriminated against in the later stages of their careers, more so than men.

“It was a question of perhaps, men, when they get older, we start considering them the masters of their craft, whereas women just don’t get that same treatment; they’re kind of seen as lesser as they get older,” he says.

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“So then there was consideration around which perspectives need to be considered the most, just to make sure that it was an even spread of all perspectives.”


Some of the artists exhibiting in YOUTH are showing in Adelaide for the first time, including Sydney-based artist Joi Murugavell, one of the younger artists who is currently working out of France; painter Tyrown Waigana, a Noongar and Saibai Islander man living in Perth; and New Zealand artist Rob McLeod, whose work had curator fuzz reassessing his own views on ageing and art.

“I saw Rob’s work, which I thought was amazing, then I found out through a mutual friend that he’s actually 74, and I was like, wow, I never would have expected that from his work, which is super-vibrant abstractions of these really animated figures,” he says.

“I just thought that totally ties in with what this show is talking about – there are such things as ageless works, where you are taken away from the context of the artist’s age. And Rob’s work on its own, without having to actually touch on the subject matter, just throws off all of our stereotypes.”

Other exhibitors include ceramicists Alison Smiles and Cassie Thring, visual artist and painter Aida Azin, whose work is grounded in her Filipino-Iranian heritage, and renowned poet Kate Llewellyn, who at 88 is the oldest of the participants.

“Ageism is so ingrained in our culture I doubt it will change anytime soon,” says Przygonski.

“Bringing the subject into the open is a positive step, and I live in hope that the work in this show will at least encourage people to stop and think about how we engage with each other.

“To be invited to take part in this show has presented me a valuable opportunity to more deeply grapple with my feelings and experiences around the issue of ageism, and the making of the work has become a fantastic release.

“At the core we are fundamentally identical and we’re all heading in the same direction toward our ending, we just have different timings. No period within this timeline makes a person superior or inferior to others, yet it seems certain ages are held up to be more desirable.”

Fuzz says he hopes visitors will come away from the exhibition and “feel like there is no issue regarding age”, or to at least have an awareness of the issues around ageism so “we can tackle them and move beyond them”.

YOUTH  is showing at praxis ARTSPACE until July 6.

Andrea Przygonski with her work Time Travel. Photo: Michael Haines / supplied

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