The hustle and bustle of Little Saigon had Madelena Rehorek hooked from the very start and her love for Footscray has only deepened, she tells Benjamin Millar

 

What’s your connection to Footscray?

I had a really good friend who took me to Little Saigon Market. I thought it’s great, everyone yelling to each other, it’s very quirky and full of energy. I hadn’t found inner-city Melbourne that fun for a while. A lot of people in the arts are moving west because it is a great environment and it’s cheaper. It had a bad stigma to it but that’s going.

 

How did you come to start the Ruffian Gallery?

We started Ruffian when we finished university. We were at a bit of a loss as to where we could put our work. We’re interested in documenting socially-aware photography and there wasn’t a space in Melbourne that displays socially-aware photography.

 

How did you choose Footscray for the gallery?

It was the perfect place for it. It’s so diverse and there are a lot of people into the arts. Our philosophy has been to share with other artists and support each other. In terms of the gallery it was a really cheap old property. When we were starting Ruffian, Sarah [Pannell] and I were sitting out the front and we put up a ‘free portrait’ sign. We let anyone in Footscray come in for a free portrait done and people of so many ages and cultures came in.

 

What can you tell us about the Dysturb photojournalism project and the new paste-ups on Cross Street?

Dysturb is an international collaboration of photojournalism; it’s about bringing photojournalism to the streets. We want to engage more with the public through photojournalism.We found young people really weren’t engaging with the news. For the Cross Street outdoor exhibition we have selected seven images that represent different social issues. We’ve been surprised at how many people engage with this on things like Instagram. It makes news stories accessible to a wider range of people.

 

What other local places inspire you?

Wrangler Studios in West Footscray have a very similar philosophy to us, but they’re cultivating young bands like The Smith Street Band. It’s a great little home for music and we partner with them. They started a little band room at Ruffian and we’d have live music and exhibition openings all in one.

 

With Ruffian holding its final exhibition, what’s next for you?

I’ll be heading overseas to work with Dysturb and when I’m back in Melbourne I’ll work on more projects with Ruffian. Physically it’s closing, but we have called Cross Street our new exhibition venue. We have a closing party on Friday night and there’ll be four photographers on show. We’ll also have a bunch of maps to send people down to Cross Street.

 

The ‘Heavy Heart’ farewell show opens at Ruffian Gallery, 361 Barkly Street, Footscray at 7pm on Friday. The Dysturb outdoor exhibition can be seen on the former substation on Cross Street, Footscray.