Celebrating Kate Daw

Vale Dr Kate Daw, 1965–2020. By Giulia McGauran.
Vale Dr Kate Daw, 1965–2020. By Giulia McGauran.

Kate Daw, the much-loved artist and educator who led VCA Art from 2018 – 2020, saw art as a social force deeply interwoven with everyday life.

Event for Kate Daw on Wednesday night will celebrate, ruminate and navigate around work and life, just as Kate herself did. Presented by distinguished curator and writer Juliana Engberg, with guests and special performances, this intimate encounter inaugurates the Kate Daw Lecture which will be held annually, as a tribute to Kate’s contribution to the VCA and the art world more broadly.

The annual lecture will celebrate Australian women artists, recognising Kate’s lifelong commitment to feminism. Her membership of the Support Women Image Makers (SWIM) group, which began in the early 1990s, was an important influence on her practice, and helped cement friendship and womanhood as central themes for her.

“Juliana and Kate had a rich, respectful relationship, from an early stage in Kate’s career,” says David Sequeira, Director of the Fiona and Sidney Myer Gallery at the VCA and friend and colleague of Kate’s.

“For Kate, being an artist wasn’t just about being in the studio; it was about encountering her work amidst a bigger conversation about the world and the possibility of contemporary art, and Juliana is one of the leaders of that conversation.”

Kate didn’t see herself as segmented, he reflects.

“She was a mother, artist and lecturer and all those aspects of her life contributed to an art practice that focused on narrative and story that evolved from a range of obscure sources that were nonetheless logical to Kate.”

In the fond obituaries that were written in the wake of Kate’s 2020 death, a consistent theme emerges: that she was notable not only for her great art, but also for her unbound kindness.

“She had an outrageous warmth,” recalls David.

“Bringing people together in the name of art and art education was one of her great gifts. She was all about community; about shared experiences and common goals.”

This commitment lay at the heart of her leadership of VCA Art, which was driven by a strong belief in the importance of educators maintaining active and engaged studio practices.

“Kate’s commitment to her staff being known as artists in the broadest sense was really important. She insisted that the key to our success as educators was actually in our practice,” David says.

“She believed students need to see us grappling with being an artist. She was always an extraordinary reminder of the privilege of being an artist and an educator.”

Kate died during Melbourne’s first strict lockdown. Wednesday’s event offers her colleagues, friends, and students the opportunity to celebrate her life together in person.

“I see this event as a communal, joyous reflection of Kate’s multi-faceted contribution to all of our lives,” says David.

“Kate had a capacity to embrace so much, and now we have the opportunity to celebrate that.”

Event for Kate Daw is a free event at 6pm, Wednesday June 15, at the Hanson Dyer Hall at the Ian Potter Southbank Centre.