The Nurses’ and Midwives’ art exchange

Image: We are the Front-line (2022), by Xander Savage

It has been a privilege to be a part of the team who created The Nurses’ and Midwives’ art exchange, at the RMIT Design Hub Gallery as part of the Big Anxiety Naarm/Melbourne. The exhibition highlights creative responses and stories from nurses and midwives who worked through the pandemic in Australia and the US. We wanted to surface nursing and midwifery ways of knowing beyond the dominant empirical models of positivist science, to include: the ethical, aesthetic, and personal (Carper, 1978).

We also wanted an archive of the pandemic that was from them rather than about them. These works are accompanied by responses from RMIT art students and staff. Our team wanted to develop experiential and embodied pedagogical approaches through material making for artists to respond to social justice challenges beyond and within the classroom and studio. We used an inter-professional/inter-sectoral approach to teach students for a semester and matched them with nurses working in diverse healthcare settings.

So, this exhibition is an innovative project, it is a love letter to Nurses and Midwives who have been front and center of the action, and also to those “informal” caregivers feeling the deep exhaustion of providing care during the pandemic. These professions stepped up to be there with those in need, despite the risks, lack of supplies and threats to their own health and that of their loved ones. But the pandemic also highlighted the gaps, the exclusion of Nurses and midwives’ voices at policy tables, the workforce shortages (three-quarters of nurses declared an intention to leave over the next two to five years), the horrible gaps, the lack of support, not being heard, the grind, the wear, and tear. We are grateful for support from RMIT Culture, CAST, the Australian College of Nursing, Eastern Health, Creative Care, and staff and students in the RMIT School of Art.

At the launch, we had the amazing Corona Choir perform from Eastern Health. Here are a few snaps from the night.

Mark Edgoose with a student, talking about their work. Photo credit: Emily Short
Me and some of our guests. Photo credit: Peter Mellow
The project team from left to right: Mark Edgoose, Kelly Hussey-Smith, Moi, Fleur Summers, Grace McQuilten (not pictured). Photo credit: Emily Short

Project team
Dr Kelly Hussey-Smith is an artist-researcher focused on photography as a social practice, the politics of representation, and community-oriented education. She is a Lecturer in Photography at the RMIT School of Art.

Dr Fleur Summers is the studio coordinator in sculpture at the School of Art, RMIT. She focuses on teaching developmental working processes with reference to spatial practice. Fleur has experience in a range of technical processes and has a strong conceptual approach.

Dr Mark Edgoose is the studio coordinator of Gold and Silversmithing, at the School of Art, RMIT. Mark works at the intersections of craft, design and architecture and is fuelled by an interest in both traditional and high-tech materials and processes.

Associate Professor Grace McQuilten is a writer, curator and artist with expertise in contemporary art and design, public art, social practice, social enterprise and community development.

Dr Ruth De Souza is a Fellow of the Australian College of Nursing and a Registered Nurse with a PhD, MA (Nurs), Grad Dip (Counselling) and Diploma in Nursing. Ruth has extensive experience as a clinician, researcher and academic in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. She is a 2020 RMIT University Vice Chancellor’s Fellow and is based in the School of Art.

Birthing and Justice: From intimate, asynchronous, mobile media to a scheduled live audience

When I was twelve years old I went on a work experience trip to a Radio station 1ZM in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland with my pal Mandy Cunningham. I had big dreams of being a DJ and radio announcer but I was disappointed that DJs were not autonomous. They had to play particular songs. That was not for me. Fast forward to 2020 when I started my podcast talking with people from First Peoples and People of Colour about birthing in settler societies. I love having autonomy to produce (with great producers like Nicola Harvey and Jon Tjhia) and distribute, as well as the intimacy and random relationships listeners develop with interviewees (check out the feedback at the bottom of the podcast episodes page).

Me with a mike. Talking.

I recorded series 1 in one day in a studio with guests ensconced in studios in Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, and the United States. I recorded Series 2 and 3 in my home studio (code for dining table which is now my office desk) on the Bass Coast in Victoria, Australia due to lockdowns. So it’s super fun to go from communal listening to communal engagement vis a vis talking to podcast guests in person with audiences. Podcast lovers, I am hosting two panel discussions in October. I am excited about amplifying the voices of five podcast alumni in person at the Big Anxiety Festival in Melbourne next month. The first is a Panel: Caring for the caregivers: Mothers and birthing parents on October 5th, and the second is a discussion after a screening of Perinatal Dreaming on the 6th.

Podcast cover for Birthing and Justice. Artwork by Atong Atem
Design by Ethan Tsang

Caring for the caregiver, mothers and birthing parents on 5th October 2022 from 10-12
I am talking to Dr Helen Ngo, Writers Dr Natalie Kon-Yu and Eleanor Jackson at an event called Caring for the caregiver, mothers and birthing parents on 5th October 2022 from 10-12 . To register follow this Eventbrite link

Care was a big buzzword during the early part of the pandemic. For pregnant people, disruptions in care became a feature. Whether it was the inability to enjoy the physical and social support of family and friends, or that health care became virtual as services were scaled back or reconfigured. The impact for new parents was an increase in responsibility and stress and anxiety, rather than through a system of collective care. In this free event, attendees are invited to virtually listen to the podcast series Birthing and Justice hosted by me, in their own space and time.

Panel members
Eleanor Jackson was my guest on Season 2 Episode 7 and we talked about the poetics and politics of birthing. Eleanor is a Filipino Australian poet, performer, arts producer and community radio broadcaster. She is the author of Gravidity and Parity and A Leaving, both by Vagabond Press. Her live album, One Night Wonders, is produced by Going Down Swinging. Eleanor is committed to developing and hosting events and experiences that showcase the diversity of both poetic language and writers and audiences. She is a former Editor in Chief of Peril Magazine, Board Member of Queensland Poetry Festival and Vice-Chair of The Stella Prize. She is currently Chair of Peril Magazine and Producer of the Melbourne Poetry Map.

Natalie Kon-yu was my guest on Series 3 Episode 4 and we spoke about writing, birth trauma and medical sexism. Natalie is a writer, academic and editor whose work has been published nationally and internationally. She is the co-commissioning editor of #Me Too: Stories from the Australian Women’s Movement (Picador, 2019), Mothers and Others: Why Not All Women are Mothers and All Mothers are Not the Same (Pan Macmillan, 2015) and Just Between Us: Australian Writers Tell the Truth about Female Friendship (Pan Macmillan 2013). Her latest book, The Cost of Labour, is out now through Affirm Press. She lives and works in Naarm.

Helen Ngo was a guest Series 2 Episode 6 and we spoke about bilingualism, the habits of racism and embodied experiences of parenting. Helen is an academic philosopher and DECRA Research Fellow at Deakin University. She works in phenomenology, critical philosophy of race, and feminist philosophy, and has written on topics such as: racialised embodiment and temporalities, anti-racist activism, white privilege and white supremacy. Her 2017 book, The Habits of Racism, explored the different ways racism is taken up and experienced through our bodily habits and habituations. A daughter of Chinese-Vietnamese refugees and a mother to three young children, Helen’s recent work explores questions around language and bilingual parenting as part of a bigger research project on racialised non-belonging and home-making. She lives and works on the unceded land of the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people of the Kulin Nation.


Perinatal dreaming: On justice, reclamation, and transformation 6th October at The Big Anxiety Forum
Join me in conversation with Gina Maree Bundle, Storm Henry and Marianne Wobcke to reflect on Marianne’s Roadtrip: Perinatal dreaming  workshop and talk: Reclamation, healing, and transformation in our birthing institutions.

Check out this award winning work


Gina and Storm were guests on Series 2 Episode 1 where they spoke about trust in hospitals. In the episode, we talked about working at “The Women’s” (Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne), which has a complex history involving the enforcement of the ‘Aborigines’ Protection Act (1869) causing First Nations babies and children to be removed from their families, community and culture. Storm and Gina work to create an intersectional, culturally safe service at multiple levels and promote a whole of hospital approach.

Artist and Program Coordinator of Badjurr-Bulok Wilam at the Royal Women’s Hospital Gina Maree Bundle

Midwife Storm Henry and nurse

Artist and midwife Marianne Wobke