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An interview with Wendy Sharpe

One of Australia’s favourite artists, Wendy Sharpe recently spoke to us about the process of creating a large-scale mural of her family history in the middle of a pandemic in the Museum’s temporary exhibition space. Wendy reflected on the experience of telling her personal story through her exhibition titled ‘Vu iz dos Gesele? (Where is the Little Street?)’, and how it became a way to tell the stories of loss and displacement of so many people all over the world. 

Unfortunately, Wendy’s mural will not be seen by the public. Its demolition was part of the artist’s concept, and so the mural will be removed at the end of August as planned, to make way for a museum upgrade. 

Keep reading for our conversation with Wendy. 

Wendy Sharpe at the Sydney Jewish Museum with her muralWendy Sharpe at the Sydney Jewish Museum, 2021. Photograph by Jarrod Bryant.

SJM: Tell us about the process of bringing the mural to life after so many months of planning it.

Wendy: I came up with the idea of a large, continuous mural based on a family research trip in 2019. I drew, while I was travelling in the Ukraine, a kind of visual diary, other sketches and artist books. On my return to Australia, I looked through these and came up with a design for the mural, which encompassed months of work, and which is how I could paint the mural in under a week. It was great to actually start; the exhibition space was perfect, and all went well… until lockdown!

SJM: How did COVID-19 impact the exhibition and your process of creating the mural?

Wendy: The mural was always meant to be ephemeral. The title, ‘Vu iz dos Gesele (Where is the Little Street?)’ is about a place that has disappeared, and that only exists in memory, so I always wanted it to be painted over at the end. Of course, I wanted people to see it first. It was just bad luck the mural coincided with lockdown.

SJM: Have you ever painted murals of this scale before?

Wendy: Yes, I painted the Olympic pool-size mural at Cook and Philip Park Aquatic Centre on College Street in Sydney’s CBD; the Women’s Empowerment Mural in Newtown; the ephemeral, large-scale murals at Mosman Art Gallery and Maitland Regional Art Gallery; as well as the Yellow House in Potts Point. But nothing of the scale of ‘Vu iz dos Gesele?’, and nothing this personal.

SJM: What has been the response from people to your exhibition, from initial concept to the transition to an online format?

Wendy: Most people are very disappointed that they cannot actually see the mural; as am I. However, I am so glad we could have great webinars, videos and other recordings of the exhibition from the Sydney Jewish Museum. I have had great feedback from people, but it is not the same as being there, walking through it and understanding the scale of the artwork.

Artist, Wendy Sharpe, painting a large mural in Sydney Jewish MuseumWendy Sharpe, ‘Vu iz dos Gesele?’ Where is the Little Street?, Work in progress 2021. Photograph by Jarrod Bryant.

SJM: What do you hope the viewers of your online mural will take away from the experience?

Wendy: Although this is about my family, I am delighted that people have connected with it. In some ways, it is universal, and resonates with all asylum seekers and refugees; anyone who has been in danger and had to leave their home. This is especially true for people of Jewish heritage, whether they fled the pogroms around 1900 or the Holocaust, regardless of which country they fled from. I have received some beautiful, touching messages and photographs from people who identify with it. It is very moving.

To watch a short documentary on the painting of ‘Vu iz dos Gesele? (Where is the Little Street?)’ click here. To access our on-demand online artist talks with Wendy, click here.

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