An exploration of women and their impact in film, Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion at ACMI is the latest exhibition to grace the gallery space of the Melbourne art institution. Combining print, video, costuming, and digital media, Goddess takes gallery visitors through 120 years of characters, stories, and moments of history that place women at the centre.
Entering into ACMI’s lower ground level, visitors are greeted by shimmering silver walls and a large metallic placard with the words “POWER. GLAMOUR. REBELLION“. As you turn the corner, past the plaque titled ‘In Her Words‘ is a world of millennial pink. The colour is fitting; pretty, energising, and undeniably feminine, pink is so often ridiculed for its association with women and femininity. As new waves of feminism have emerged, so too has the colour pink as women reclaim it as a symbol of strength, pride, and community.
The first items on display in the gallery is Marilyn Monroe’s iconic pink gown from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes alongside Margot Robbie’s homage jumpsuit from the 2020 Birds of Prey film. Behind the costumes, a reel of famous women like Robbie, Madonna, supermodel Winnie Harlow, and Megan Thee Stallion are embodying the old Hollywood icon. Starting with Marilyn is perhaps an obvious but nonetheless impactful choice. She is, after all, history’s favourite blonde.
Surrounding this first display of hyper femininity are costume sketches and photographs, movie posters, magazines and vinyl records on display from high points in these different women’s careers. The exhibition then expands to other women of impact, like Dorothy Dandridge, Tilda Swinton, Anna Mae Wong, Meena Kumari and more, with moments of pause to explore moments in history like the creation of the Hays Code, feminism in film, and the rise of blaxsploitation, hagsploitation, and the racist stereotype of the ‘dragon lady’. Every corner of Goddess is packed with artworks, video media and costuming to help tell this story in the most impactful way.
The combination of traditional and digital media, including an interactive AI corner, makes Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion a really unique experience. Walking through the space, the joining of media and interaction felt similar to previous ACMI exhibits like Game Masters, enabling the stories on the placards and costumes to feel more alive.
One of the exhibit’s most powerful corners, the Gender Avengers display, combines a reel of film scenes from iconic films like La Femme Nikita, Ms. 45, Cleopatra Jones, Foxy Brown and more, with costuming from Thelma & Louise and Promising Young Woman, highlighting the frustrations of women under patriarchy and violence and the special kind of women driven to take revenge into their own hands. While their means are often unjustifiable, this corner of the exhibit was exhilarating, giving voice to the hidden rage so many women carry.
Complementary to the exhibit, the knowledgeable ACMI staff are on-hand to provide guided spot tours plus the addition of the paper ACMI lens allows you to collect digital footprints of key points in the exhibit to view back later. As with all ACMI exhibits, Goddess is so meticulously conceived and executed. From the moment I read the first plaque, and at every station along the way, I was moved to tears. As a film lover and a woman, the Goddess exhibit filled me with incredible respect, sadness, and pride; the journey of these women, regardless of country, background, or identity, was fraught with struggles and marked by their perseverance so that they could pave the way for the next generations.
Curated by Bethan Johnson with development from Swinburne academics Jessica Balanzategui, Liam Burke, and Joanna McIntyre, Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion is a beautifully crafted and honest portrait of the film industry’s oft trod on heroes, a reflection of their struggles and triumphs in the face of adversity and underestimation. Walk in a woman, walk out a goddess.
Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion is now on in Melbourne at ACMI until October 1st.
For more information and ticketing, visit: https://www.acmi.net.au/whats-on/goddess
Photography by Eugene Hyland.