Her Sound, Her Story: Celebrating Women in Australian Music

Melbourne Music Week is in full swing, celebrating the diverse and rich musical culture that this country (and this city in particular) has to offer. One of the standout events of the entire week is the Her Sound, Her Story exhibition, a collection of portrait photographs and documentary footage of some of the country’s most celebrated female musicians, music journalists and beyond. 

As diverse and talented as this country’s music industry is, women have long been under-represented, and that diversity is rarely reflected to its full extent when it comes to festival line ups, award nominations, best-of shortlists, paid work and more. It’s this under-representation which photographer Michelle Grace Hunder found to be startlingly clear when she was working on her hip-hop photo-documentary, Rise, two years ago. The end result was an extensive photography book filled from cover to cover with Australian hip-hop artists and visionaries – but only a small handful of all the portraits featured in the book were of women. Enter the idea for her new collaboration with filmmaker and long-time friend, Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore, the launch of which helped to kick off the Melbourne Music Week events.

Her Sound, Her Story is a celebration of women in the Australian music industry and features over 40 female musicians all in different stages in their careers. A visual representation of the very diversity we need to continue to nurture, support and celebrate, the photographic exhibition features women of colour, of various sexual orientations and from a wide range of musical and cultural backgrounds and manifests. What connects them is their love for music, their support for one another (and other women in the industry) and the stunning portraits that light up Melbourne’s Emporium shopping centre.

Walking into Emporium though the side entrance to the official launch of the exhibition, there is an undeniable, palpable excitement in the atmosphere. Rounding the bend, the exhibition space, Emporium’s main entrance, is completely transformed. While it does often house art installations and sets, this one seems different. More special somehow in that it is placing some of Australia’s finest female musicians right in one of the busiest CBD locations. It is bold and unabashed; the lightboxes displaying the vibrant photographs at the front and centre of the room. The series features over 40 of the country’s most revered and renowned artists, from Kate Ceberano and Tina Arena, Missy Higgins and Julia Stone, Montaigne and Ecca Vandal, Sampa The Great and Mojo Juju.

In addition to hosting many of the faces immortalised in the portraits, the intimate launch event featured an introduction from the National Treasure and one of the featured portrait subjects, Ella Hooper. Having stressed once more the significance of the project, not to mention the fact that following the launch, it would launch Melbourne Music Week at the State Library the following night. Speeches from the creators made it very clear that from concept to conclusion, Her Sound, Her Story focused on not simply photographic the subjects, but getting to know them – quite literally, it marries music with narrative effortlessly. Ahead of the MMW launch event, guests were treated to the frankly (fittingly) surreal experience of a brief but no less soulful live performance by Nai Palm right in the middle of the Emporium Entrance. The Hiatus Kaiyote singer’s incomparable vocals filled the entire space accompanied only by her guitar as she closed the event out to awe and applause.

Her Sound, Her Story is not simply a reminder that we, as a community, need to focus on bringing greater diversity to the forefront. It is all well and good to have the conversation, but this exhibition, which features over 40 artists and tells their stories through their photo concepts and documented interviews, is action being taken. A testament to art, music, film, story-telling and sheer passion for all four, Her Sound, Her Story goes further than simply acknowledging the problem – contributes to the solution in a most bold and beautiful fashion.  

Her Sound, Her Story is showing at the Emporium Shopping Centre in Melbourne until Sunday, November 19th. More details can be found at the official website.