Over the exposed bricks of a Stanmore shed hang framed illustrations and street-inspired graffiti art from a mix of emerging and established local artists. People flick through zines as a DJ spins from a corner of the fairy-lit backyard. Someone’s mum has made guacamole and you can purchase a tinny or a wine for a gold coin donation.

This is Backyart, an artistic collective and exhibition series comprised of three Darlington roommates and long time friends. Held once every three months in a chosen backyard across Sydney, Backyart is a re-imagining of the boundaries between public and private space.

Aisha Phillips, Rebecca Levy and Zoe Edema are Backyart’s organisers, curators and self-titled ‘backyard blitz team’ behind each yard transformation. I caught up with Aisha to chat about the resounding success of this grass roots approach to art and community.

So how did you come up with the idea?

I work in the art department for film and TV designing sets and props, so I’m always thinking about different ways of looking at space. As well as my work, I’ve been inspired by my community-minded family who have organised many events around social and environmental justice.

I’m an art collector and attend lots of exhibitions. At some point I started to think about how I could re-interpret art exhibitions and spaces. I got to thinking; my backyard could be turned into a garden gallery. I think it’s this simplicity that has made Backyart so accessible and successful.

What do you look for in a space?

It’s mainly an intuitive feeling I get from looking at a backyard and visualising how we can curate an experience. We’ll look at the decrepit walls, or at the fence that holds a bit of weathered-down texture. It’s fun to play with concepts, like, what would a projection of abstract footage look like in that side passage? How does certain lighting create texture and mood?

I also love thinking about the garden aspect, what plants there are and how they can work together with the art. I’m scared to admit how many times I’ll walk through a space in the lead up to a show – I take it to an extreme. Every little aspect of the show has been thought out.

 Is it hard to find a backyard?

Not at all! After our first one, which was at our house in Darlington, I had numerous people come up to me and offer to host. That was when I realised that this idea is something that has a lot of value. People love seeing their backyard transformed into an exhibition space for the night.

As for the artworks, for now our artists are local, very Sydney-focused. We’re really building ourselves up on a grass roots level, but we’ve got some pretty big plans to expand and work with international collaborators.

Why is Backyart an important aspect of the Sydney art scene?

What we’re striving for is a neighbourhood culture, and reimagining private spaces as spaces that might be shared. Art is such a great talking point, so in that way Backyart works because it brings strangers together.

People can have conversations about the art and the space, and connect on a really easy yet meaningful level. For me, that idea of community is the most important part.


Like Backyart on Facebook and follow @backyartcollective on Instagram for exhibition updates. The next Backyart will be held in Coogee in January, so stay tuned.

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