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September 6, 2023

Deaf-led exhibition Deaf Gain is a celebration of communication

Curated by Adelaide artist William Maggs, Deaf Gain showcases the works of Deaf artists from South Australia and Victoria and coincides with the National Week of Deaf People.

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  • Words and photos: David Simmons

Nine Deaf artists have made the walls of the Kerry Packer Civic Gallery their own this September, with a new exhibition bringing together a “fragmented” community.

Called Deaf Gain, the initiative was created in collaboration with South Australian organisation The Deaf Butterfly Effect in order to uplift and celebrate the local community.


Deaf Gain

4-27 September
The Kerry Packer Civic Gallery, Bob Hawke Building, Level 3, Uni SA City West Campus. 55 North Terrace
Open 9am-6pm

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On display are works across a spectrum of mediums from sculptural work done by South Australian artist Samantha Wilson, paintings by local curator William Maggs, video work by Ravi Vasavan from Victoria and even a painted surfboard.

The pieces explore capital-D Deaf culture, playing with Auslan sign language and motifs that will make the most sense to the community that made them.

A collaborative piece with nationwide contributions showcasing the experiences of the Deaf community in Australia is also present, as are historic documents relevant to Adelaide’s Deaf people compiled by historian and educator Katrina Parker.

Speaking to CityMag, curator William Maggs said he hoped the exhibition would “bring the community together”.

“Here in Adelaide, the community is quite fragmented,” said Maggs, who put Deaf Gain together with The Deaf Butterfly Effect’s Kiara Murphy and local artist Grace Marlow from Adelaide Contemporary Experimental.

“After our Deaf Society 262 was sold, we basically had nowhere to be together. It’s been a lot harder to set up events and really get people involved in community events.”

The inclusion of Victorian artists was important too according to Maggs, who said the “scene [in Melbourne] is really massive”.

“It’d be lovely to gather a tiny pebble from that and drop it into the Adelaide Deaf community and see how that would impact the community here and learn from their experiences and get some of that Deaf empowerment,” he said.

He added that there were significant hurdles for Deaf artists, some of whom find it difficult to write grant applications. Communication with non-Deaf people in the arts sector poses its own problems too considering interpreters are often required, which can be costly.

“What Deaf Gain is about is trying to make other people understand that there is Deaf excellence, and there’s this opportunity for Deaf people to say yes – it’s possible,” Maggs said.

The exhibition runs during September, coinciding with the National Week of Deaf People from 18-24 September. A special Deaf Gain Celebration Day on the 23rd will be held to celebrate the exhibition and is set to include panel discussions led by West Australian advocate Drisana Levitzke-Gray.

Missed A Joke by William Maggs. Photo: David Simmons/CityMag.

Curator Maggs said he was thrilled to have Katrina Parker on board, describing her as “a bit of an institution”.

“She’s one of the most important people in this Deaf community,” he said.

“She’s the keeper of history and for 32 years she’s been working at Adelaide TAFE teaching Auslan. I’ve got to bow down to her as this incredibly important person. I really want to show that history of Adelaide, the Deaf community, how that’s been in the past and how that looks now.”

Katrina contributed copies of historic Deaf publications to the exhibition, including documents dating back years showcasing how the community used to pass on information.

Speaking to CityMag, Parker said that since the Deaf Society building at 262 South Terrace was sold in 2014 it has been “hard to meet as a community”.

“It was so incredibly valuable for us as a community to meet every week, to have sports and other events – that was incredible,” she said.

“But now, the community is so divided and fragmented and nobody seems to know what’s going on. It’s a very different world now, and it feels like the community is very quiet.”

A history of deaf communication and publishing by Katrina Parker. Photo: David Simmons/CityMag.

She applauded The Deaf Butterfly Effect for its efforts in bringing Adelaide’s Deaf people back together.

“It’s incredible seeing that connection really starting to reform, because there’s no Deaf Society or Deaf club anymore. There’s no bar, there’s no central meeting place, there’s no kitchen, there’s no hall.

“All of that connection and community is now gone.

“But we’re starting to reform and it’s lovely seeing a lot of Deaf students being involved in events that are run by The Deaf Butterfly Effect.”

A special thanks to Amber Venner for interpreting CityMag’s conversation with William and Katrina.

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