Created by former residents of Parramatta Girls Home and curated by UNSW Art & Design ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award fellow Lily Hibberd Living Traces is an exhibition of artists books and prints that recover traces of the women's time as teenage residents of the home more than 50 years ago.

The project is the result of a sustained six months collaboration between 12 Parragirls and renowned artist book producers Gwen Harrison and Sue Anderson. Participating in more than 16 workshops at the former Parramatta Girls Home, the Parragirls produced a series of collagraph prints that embody the marks the Home has left on them, both physically and mentally. The resulting limited edition of handmade artist books capture for example the scratchings left on surfaces in the institution and the women’s own writing today.

Founded by Bonney Djuric and Christina Green in 2006, Parragirls is a collective and support group for former residents of the Parramatta Girls Home. As an independent group, Parragirls advocates for human rights and the public and state recognition of their institutional experiences, lobbying for the protection of Parramatta Female Factory Precinct’s national heritage.

Today, the coded graffiti at Parramatta Girls Home is only translatable by former residents. Words or acronyms written in a unique coded language, like ILWA/ I Love, Worship and Adore, were covertly scored while in solitary confinement as an act of solidarity and resistance against the cruelty the girls and women suffered at the hands of their keepers. Living Traces captures otherwise unrecorded memories of the institution, buried under trauma and shame, before they are lost forever.

This project explores and demonstrates how creative research can engage with urgent issues of social justice. Parramatta Girls Home is under investigation as part of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. After more than 50 years, Parragirls are now being asked to bear witness to the abuse that was inflicted upon them at the hands of superintendents and other staff. In the context of the Royal Commission former residents of the Home testify as resilient victims, through their creative practice the women are further empowered as authors of the institution’s history. 

Living Traces is the third curated Parragirls Female Factory Precinct Memory Project exhibition at Parramatta Girls Home since 2013. Dr Lily Hibberd and Bonney Djuric founded the project in 2012 and have co-curated four exhibitions and published both academic and collaborative writing as a result of their project.

Lily Hibberd says that, “Living Traces is proof that creative practice is vital for the resilience and recovery of those living with profound trauma. Through this work, the Parragirls have forged an identity outside trauma itself, not as a victim or subject of inquiry but as artists, historians and writers in their own right.”

Join performance artist Zsuzsi Soboslay on Opening night 5pm, Saturday 24 September, in a work conceived by artist and Parragirl Jenny McNally, It’s time for transparency.

When: 25 September – 2 October 2016
Where: Kamballa / Former Parramatta Girls Home
1 Fleet St, Parramatta North
Hours: 2–6pm 

This project is supported by the NSW Government through Arts NSW.

UNSW's 2017 Anxiety Festival
Parragirls Female Factory Precinct Memory Project is currently developing a flagship virtual reality work commissioned by UNSW Art & Design and NIEA Professor Jill Bennett for the 2017 Anxiety Festival to be presented at UNSW's new and yet to be launched Expanded Perception and Interaction Centre (EPICentre).

This project is a major collaboration between Parragirls, EPICentre Co-Director, Professor Sarah Kenderdine and UNSW Art & Design researchers Dr Alex Davies and Dr Volker Kulchelmeister to realise a 360 visualisation of the Home that reveals the institution’s history through Parragirls’ recollections.

The 2017 Anxiety Festival, directed by Jill Bennett, examines anxiety, stress and mental illness through cutting edge art practice and pioneering modes of community engagement across Greater Sydney.