Olivia Welch, Curator & Writer

Lisbon street art, photo by Poppy Danis, 2017

Lisbon street art, photo by Poppy Danis, 2017

What a powerhouse this lady is - writer, curator and traveller. Olivia has a unique background and approach to her work that we love. She's professional, dedicated and passionate, not to mention nice as hell. 

What do you do?

I am an arts writer, curator and gallery girl – which is basically code for an absolute art lover trying to share that appreciation.

Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?

“Ask all the questions!” – It is a maxim that has annoyed many, but has fed an insatiable curiosity.

What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?

* High School work experience at Brenda May Gallery in Sydney. I decided I wanted to be a curator at 15 and when my industrial arts teacher Mr. Shaw discovered this, he organised a week of work experience for me with Brenda May. I then started working for the gallery at 18 and continue to work for Brenda’s new gallery MAY SPACE via correspondence. Brenda has been my mentor, friend, ally and supporter. Working for her also led me to meeting Megan Fizell, whom I admire the hell out of!

* Getting a job in the arts in Portugal. I cannot speak Portuguese and did not know much about the Portuguese art world when I moved to Lisbon. I really did not have high hopes. A friend from Sydney, the incredible Akky van Ogtrop, made an introduction for me that has led to working under the kind and intelligent curator Ana Vasconcelos at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum’s Modern Collection.

* Marrying Geordie. I met him in an alleyway behind a pub in Sydney when I was 19 and now we live in Lisbon with almost two years of marriage under our belts. We are very different people. He is a professional Rugby player and is currently writing a Master’s thesis in Naval Architecture, but he is my biggest fan. We eloped here in Portugal and at the time it felt a little crazy, but it has been the best damn decision of my life. He reminds me to live in the moment, which I struggle with constantly.  

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

I am hoping to start a PhD in a year, which means that I am currently trying to read everything in my chosen fields of post colonialism and institutional critique, so that I can find an academic gap… still searching!

'Tensão E Liberdade' (Tension and Freedom) 2015, installation view, Calouste Gublenkian Museum – Modern Collection. Image featuring Richard Hamilton's 'Finn MacCool' 1983 and wall text by Olivia Welch. Curated by Isabel Carlos.

'Tensão E Liberdade' (Tension and Freedom) 2015, installation view, Calouste Gublenkian Museum – Modern Collection. Image featuring Richard Hamilton's 'Finn MacCool' 1983 and wall text by Olivia Welch. Curated by Isabel Carlos.

A view of buildings on by street by Poppy Danis, 2017

A view of buildings on by street by Poppy Danis, 2017

Can you share a creative experience that you have found defining?

I had a gap year after school that started in the USA to get to know some of my father’s family. In his home state of Michigan, I visited the Detroit Institute of Arts and it was incredible. I had never been to a museum with a collection of African or Native American artefacts, seen a Modigliani in the flesh or could have imagined such an incredible fresco by Diego Rivera as the twenty-seven panels that call this museum home.  

What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?

I just finished reading the essay Radical Museology or, What’s Contemporary in Museums of Contemporary Art? by Claire Bishop with drawings by Dan Perjovschi. I read it as research, but it will be a text I think I will come back to throughout my career. I just kept saying “YES!” while reading it.

What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?

A lack of appreciation for the whole ecosystem that allows the arts to thrive. Too often I see smaller galleries, local cultural societies and hobbyists getting snubbed by people with high positions in the art world, but we need the whole ecosystem: from photography enthusiasts exhibiting at their local library, to international blockbuster exhibitions at high-budget institutions, for the art world to keep turning and to stay interesting.

What do you want to be asked about that no one ever asks you?

About being a mixed African-American Australian. It has been interesting to see what this identity means for my father, and myself in turn, particularly throughout the Obama presidency, with the Black Lives Matter movement and the current shallow fascination in parts of the world of all things American. This identity is political, full of distress, empowering and stereotyped, and one that I can equally feel, but also sit outside of. I know there are many people with similar kinds of dual identities and I don’t think that there are enough spaces to openly explore and talk about these types of experiences.  

How can we find our more about your work?

* website: www.oliviamwelch.com  * twitter: @oliviamwelch

'In Tandem' 2014, installation view, Brenda May Gallery, Sydney. Curated by Olivia Welch. Image courtesy of the Artists and MAY SPACE, Sydney.

'In Tandem' 2014, installation view, Brenda May Gallery, Sydney. Curated by Olivia Welch. Image courtesy of the Artists and MAY SPACE, Sydney.

What is your dream project?

My dream project is to run a gallery with enough funds to host a residency program that supports established artists that have devoted their whole lives to the arts — helping to enrich our cultural tapestry — but who have not received the recognition they deserve. There are way too many artists out there like this who stop receiving opportunities because of their age, but still need the art world to stand behind them.

What’s something surprising about you, that we might not know?

I have an intense fear of monkeys that I only discovered when surrounded by them at a monkey reserve in Japan. They are too intelligent and will one day rule us all! (I joke, I joke)

What places are important to you?

My bed. I have terrible working habits and love to sit in my bed with the window wide open, revealing the busy street I live on, with my laptop on my knees as I type away. I also need to walk. I walk everywhere — to work, into the city, for leisure and when travelling. I like to walk and be alone with my thoughts. I find it relaxing and it helps me to be present. Without an hour of walking each day I don’t feel like myself.

What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?

When I was doing Honours at COFA, my supervisor Dr. Diane Losche told me that she had supervised far more women than men, but the men always seemed to get better jobs than women in a way that did not necessarily reflect their passion and knowledge. She told me not to shrink myself, not to undersell my skills and to be confident. I find this very difficult advice to follow, but advice that I sometimes use as a mantra when I’m going for something I don’t think I am good enough for.

Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?

I do, but the people in my network are not necessarily connected. I have slowly been collecting supportive female friends, colleagues and collaborators throughout my life that I admire so deeply. I have also been lucky enough to have a few experiences that have shown me that there are amazing people who work behind the scenes in my field everywhere; it is just a matter of finding them. One such experience was working with Verity Hayward (Melbourne), Lili Belle Birchall (Melbourne) and Jane Barlow (Hobart) at the Australian Pavilion in 2015 at the Venice Biennale, thanks to the Australia Council for the Arts. We did not know anything of each other, but just being passionate, female art professionals meant that we instantly formed this incredible bond.

Who would you most like to answer these questions next?

This is a hard question because there are so many. I can only narrow it down to a top three:

* Inês Teles Carvalhal – Independent curator from Portugal, currently living in NYC and probably about to take the place over.

* Tahjee Moar – Assistant Performance Curator at Campbelltown Arts Centre in Sydney and someone to have on your radar, for sure.

* Kerri Kennedy – My mum, who has actively worked as a graphic designer for over 30 years, since the days of Letraset and coloured markers to the digital world of today.

'In Tandem' 2014, installation view, Brenda May Gallery, Sydney. Image featuring works from Al Munro’s ‘Molecular Measure’ series. Curated by Olivia Welch. Image courtesy of the Artists and MAY SPACE, Sydney.

'In Tandem' 2014, installation view, Brenda May Gallery, Sydney. Image featuring works from Al Munro’s ‘Molecular Measure’ series. Curated by Olivia Welch. Image courtesy of the Artists and MAY SPACE, Sydney.

'Mighty Small' 2013, installation view, Brenda May Gallery, Sydney. Curated by Olivia Welch. Image courtesy of the Artists and MAY SPACE, Sydney.

'Mighty Small' 2013, installation view, Brenda May Gallery, Sydney. Curated by Olivia Welch. Image courtesy of the Artists and MAY SPACE, Sydney.