Ever been told you’re “too dramatic”? This London exhibition is disrupting the demeaning narrative

Written by Amy Beecham

Along with being called “overdramatic” or “attention-seeking” or being told your lived experience is “not that bad”, there are so many ways the sexist “hysterical” comes up today,” say the curators.

There are few things more skin-crawling and infuriating than being told you’re “just being dramatic”. And the fact that it’s a phrase directed predominantly towards women makes it all the more frustrating.

But Hysterical, a new Londoncharity exhibition curated by Bee Illustrates and Cheer Up Luv is turning the hysterical woman narrative on its head, and into a powerful message of solidarity.

“The experience of being labelled melodramatic, hysterical or overly emotional when talking about issues we face is one that is almost universal among those of us who are women or other marginalised genders,” Bee tells Stylist.

“Along with being called “overdramatic” or “attention-seeking” or being told your lived experience is “not that bad”, there are so many ways the sexist “hysterical” comes up today,” co-curator Eliza Hatch adds.

“When I started Cheer Up Luv, a photo series that documents stories of sexual harassment, I was criticised for highlighting everyday stories of harassment that many thought to be “not as serious”. It’s a common form of gaslighting that’s used to slow the progression of gender equality, and it’s a response that I’m eager to disrupt.” 

Advocacy Fatigue by Charlie Fitz

Hysterical instead aims to celebrate women and marginalised genders taking up space, defying stereotypes and challenging constructs of femininity with striking art, film and sculpture pieces.

Sunday De Brief by Beth Suzanna

The curators say that each hand-selected art piece was chosen as a reminder of how creativity can be used as a form of protest, to incite and document change. Many of the exhibited pieces reflect different cultures and communities, such as Tayo Adekunle’s Reclamation Of The Exposition, Eleanor West’s Greenham Common Quilt and Jodie Bateman’s My Hijab Has A Voice

The Hysterical exhibition, London

Other exhibiting artists include Alice Skinner, Florence Winter Hill, Alia Romagnoli, Linnet Panashe Rubaya, Iga Bielawska, Molly Piper Greaves, Samiira Garane, Beth Suzanna, Charlie J Fitz, Sara Jardine, Josie Devine, Ophelia Arc, Florence Poppy Deary and curators Eliza Hatch and Bee Illustrates themselves.

Artefact 3 by Tayo Adekunle

“Ultimately, we both hope that everyone who walks through the doors feels safe, welcomed and represented in our exhibition,” says Bee. “We want Hysterical to be an event that facilitates a safe space for people to hang out, enjoy some art and engage in events that leave people feeling galvanised, inspired and called to action – to set the wheels in motion to be the change they want to see in the world.”

Resilience by Josie Devine

“I hope that when people come to see Hysterical, they recognise the importance of art as a tool for advocacy, but also notice how vibrant, different and joyful the works are,” Eliza adds.“I think exploring such heavy subject matter, and especially how we interact with it on social media can be overwhelming and, at times, depressing. We wanted our show to be the opposite of that.”

Hysterical is open to the public 12-6pm every weekday and 11am-1pm on Saturdays at the no format Gallery, Deptford SE14 6BN.

The exhibition is a charity show in aid of raising money for Mermaids and UN Women UK. Hysterical has started a fundraiser that covers production costs that you can donate to here.

Images: courtesy of artists; hero image: Alia Romagnoli

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