Maree Coote of Melbournestyle pushes for visibility of women

Kaylah Joelle Baker

Melbournestyle Gallery is opening its doors on July 16 for an exhibition and book launch centred around Melbourne’s history as told through the lives of 50 remarkable women who helped build the city’s culture, commerce and community.

For Maree Coote, founder of the gallery, and writer and illustrator of the book Daughters of Melbourne, the correlation between the way women’s existence is acknowledged in the form of statues and the lack of respect women receive is strongly connected.

“We have so many women candidates in this city worthy of recognition and they are not thought of, or if they are, the results are generic, abstract, not positioned in a place of prominence or are removed,” Ms Coote said.

“One woman is killed every week in an episode of family violence [in Australia] and 10 are hospitalised the same way, and it is 32 times worse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. It is not good enough and it is all linked.”

Ms Coote is a strong believer that statues form a part of our storytelling and are a means of recognition that should show the next generation “what we have achieved, the truth and a balanced view.”

She has been writing about Melbourne’s “invisible” statues for more than 20 years, since her first book The Melbourne Book – A History of Now, which was prompted after a long walk through the city when she noticed Melbourne only presented non-specific women or a half-figure of Mary Gilbert “dumped in a garden shed in Fitzroy Gardens”.

It’s something she said male statues managed to avoid.

“Men have always had quite specific, figurative, particular and permanent acknowledgements, and when it comes to women’s efforts, they seem to be abstract or generic, and that’s the problem,” Ms Coote said.

Daughters of Melbourne is my way of continuing to try and push women’s visibility to a higher level and I think now is a good time to do this.”

Opening the Melbournestyle Gallery Upstairs from 2pm to 4pm on July 16, Ms Coote will not only speak about the notable figures of her Daughters of Melbourne book but also line the gallery with portraits of the Melbourne women and other contemporary women who inspire.

The book, along with many of her other Melbourne-centric titles, can be found on the gallery’s website or at many renowned bookstores. •

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