By Gemma McSherry
Go Girl are a Belfast based collaborative creative community of women that believe in feminism, opportunity and inclusion. They hold pop up exhibitions, gigs, some produce a podcast and have even been involved in TEDX Talks at Stormont, amongst many other things. They’re passionate about offering support to other creatives, raising awareness of disadvantaged groups and revolting against the elitist sentiments which prohibit easy entry into the art world.
Hello Go Girls, thanks for taking time to talk with me today.
From pop up exhibitions to being involved with TEDxWomen talks; you’ve made quite a splash on the Belfast visual art scene and beyond, whilst managing to maintain yourselves as a community of artists that are very open and welcoming to new members and ideas, this is quite a unique and fluid approach for an artist’s collective. How did you form and come together to establish this community?
Cheylene: The idea was born out of a few conversations between myself and Ciara McMullan, a music photographer based in Belfast. I’m a musician myself but we were talking about how we knew so little women in the music industry personally, most of our immediate friends and collaborators were male. So we invited any musicians who were female together to just meet up and hang out in February 2015. We all talked about our experiences of being women in the creative industry – the good and the bad. And we talked about how important and inspiring it was for us to see other women create music and art and be in charge. We wanted to create something that could be really inspiring as well as a place where we could all help each other to achieve what we wanted to.
Alice: I think all of us were feeling like that. Like there wasn’t a place for us, like we didn’t fit in within the creative scene. As soon as Cheylene and Ciara invited some of us together it felt so exciting, and it felt like it was exactly what we needed. It just snowballed from there; it went from a cup of tea in Cheylene’s house to us putting on gigs and exhibitions.
Cheylene: Yeah! It just became ‘Go Girl’ and suddenly there were females from all over the creative industries meeting up, not just from the music industry. The more we all hung out, the more ideas and projects started happening. We wanted to write songs together, teach each other skills, be in each other’s music videos and photo shoots, put on events together and just champion each other.
Catherine: I got involved last summer after Alice mentioned to me about Go Girl on a few occasions. I had seen a photo shoot they did with Vent Threads and I just wanted to be involved, as it seemed to be a busy and an inspiring group of people. I wanted to work with other women who wanted to get things done. Who were positively looking for opportunities and actively making things happen for themselves. I’ve always been a person who tries to create opportunities for myself rather than hanging around waiting for something to come up. I wanted to find like-minded women and Go Girl was the perfect place for that.
Cheylene: From the start it’s always been about meeting people, supporting each other, creating things for us and to inspire others. That has never changed, but the people involved and the diversity of creative disciplines has hugely increased. Which is amazing. We would never want to put Go Girl in a box. It is an open, supportive creative space for anyone who wants to use it and it’s constantly shifting depending on who gets involved!
Obviously, being based in Northern Ireland means that as women, we’re not subject to the same basic human rights as our sisters on the mainland. I think it goes without saying that you have an active political and feminist agenda running through your works and events. How do you ensure that as a collective you are operating under the same idealistic agenda without conflicting ideas?
Alice: Go Girl wasn’t ever set up to be intentionally feminist. It is more about celebrating and supporting creative women’s voices. Creating art and music as female artists we’re naturally responding to our environment in Northern Ireland. Sometimes this is in a distinctly feminist or queer way because we’re unhappy with what we see. Like the fact that we don’t have the same human rights as the rest of the UK and how hostile the world can be for all types of females.
Cheylene: Yes, we are feminist who believe in equality. We create a lot of material together and talk a lot about art, music and crazy ideas. The experience of being female means feminism comes into what we talk about and what we create pretty naturally, because that it is our experience as females. But sometimes we just meet up, go dancing or go to local gigs together. We celebrate conflicting ideas and working together has challenged a lot of our ideas and opinions. Which is wonderful.
It has definitely made me a prouder feminist and happier woman being surrounded by such incredible females who have different experiences from my own. But more than that I have been given great opportunities in the music and arts from collaborating with Go Girls. The friendships I’ve formed are incredible and that’s the best thing about it!
Northern Ireland is a hub of creative energy, and always has been, however this has sadly gone under appreciated for so long, on a global scale, due to the past divisions within the country. What do you think it is that makes our homeland so prone to creativity and the arts even at times of complete and utter political breakdown, such as we are faced with recently?
Catherine: I think that artistic practice is often energised by conflict. When you live in a situation that is actively difficult or unacceptable to you in your daily life, you’ll actively respond to it creatively. If that is how you choose to express yourself. Art and music are forms of expression that straddle all boundaries and can reach beyond language. You could argue that Northern Ireland as place which has been tainted through conflict in the recent past and that had resulted in people being silenced for a period due to the danger of speaking out. This silence in the arts fell through with the peace process and with it there seemed to be this massive explosion of creative output from the community that continues today. We understand the importance of the arts now that we have the freedom to express ourselves without fear of reprimand.
Alice: These moments of unrest led to creative expression. It’s great to see so many local artists and designers speaking out and being able to easily share their voices online and to know that others are feeling the same.
Cheylene: There is a sense of urgency with the arts here, you have to fight for it to be recognised, to be funded and to be attended. That makes it matter more to you and to those who consume it. The arts scene is so close knit and supportive because when one person succeeds, we all succeed. There’s also a lot of gaps in the industries here which means you can create projects and events that matter to the community a lot easier than somewhere bustling like London. Also it is extremely cheap to live here. It is actually possible pursue a creative life without being chained to an exhausting 9-5 every single day of the week just to cover your rent.
I would honestly urge any struggling creative from around the world to come to Belfast and start up events, projects, workshops or businesses. This city has given me so many opportunities. It’s a very rewarding place to live creatively even though the politics are ridiculous. Being a feminist artist community you are doing a lot to bring to the forefront women’s issues, as well as having a strong presence of other minority groups such as LGBT, non-binary and queer art, amongst others. It’s fair to say this is a time, more than ever, that keeping open a dialogue about disenfranchised groups is of vital importance.
Cheylene: Speaking from experience we know the power of females banding together. Go Girl is just a couple of dozen females and we have brought each other a lot of opportunity, solidarity, confidence and empowerment. Seeing how many people of all genders stood up for women recently was magical, a lot of us were at the Belfast March. If a couple of dozen creative women from NI can make a difference, millions of women globally is a force to be reckoned with.
Catherine: By existing we are making a stance, which is a little sad, in that it feels a very necessary stance but true nonetheless. But we’re not going anywhere! We are here to stay and make a difference in meaningful ways as much as possible.
Finally, can you name some other local artists or collectives that we should check out and what’s next for the Go Girls?
There are so many people we would love to collaborate with. Some of those people would be: a new local magazine and podcast called Intent, started up by Go Girl’s Fiona McDonnell and Constance Keane; To be Beautiful with Katie Richardson; Ellen & Hick, a lingerie business & bra fitting service that is accessible and welcoming to all people, genders and body types; Help Musicians NI and Joyalists, a Belfast g group. Also there is a really amazing Belfast illustration collective called Usfolk, we love their work, check those guys out too!
What’s next for Go Girl?
We are currently preparing for our ‘Go Girl Space’ during Culture Night – we’re taking over the High Street Subway and making it a chill out zone with live music and art! We also have another collaborative exhibition coming up in Black Box in October. If you want to get involved with Go Girl or collaborate with other creative women, message us, we would love to meet you!