Fascinated by people and the memories they hold close to their heart, Albany artist Jo Wassell has made it her mission to share these community stories that would otherwise go unheard. Wassell’s first solo exhibition “Clarence” on display at the Vancouver Arts Centre offers an insight into the lives of seven Clarence Estate residents. The artist engaged one-on-one with the residents encouraging conversations about their lives, memories and passions. Over time she collected enough information to collate into a touching exhibition that includes a portrait and snippets of conversations of residents Faye, Winston, Nola, Alec, Michael, Daphne and Irene. Also featured in the exhibition is a series of photographs of the residents’ personal artwork, something they take pride displaying in their room. “Everyone has this small room which is where there lives are now contained and what do they choose to fill that space with, what’s important to them,” she said. “I’m honouring their creativity through the exhibition as well, I see it as their exhibition too.” Wassell said the idea for the exhibition stemmed from an earlier project called Alternative Archive. “I interviewed people who I knew through my work in the disability sector, so it was small portraits of people and little booklets which were their stories and it made me aware I wanted to continue with that,” she said. “I was interested in people’s stories and I guess particularly people who might not necessarily get a chance to share their stories with the larger community.” Originally from the UK, Wassell relocated from Perth to Albany in 2017 in a move she said had cemented her artistic endeavours. Speaking with a lot of Clarence residents in the lead-up to the final exhibition, there were many highlights that stayed with her. “Daphne was a very funny woman, she had a unique way of thinking,” Wassell said. “She worked out one day there were 24 things you can do to a sheep and she just proceeded to reel off all these things you can do to a sheep and then asked if I was still counting. “It shows that she worked on a farm, gave an insight into her history but also her character; some of the staff when they came to the opening said ‘that was just so Daphne’. “And Michael, he speaks to his daughter in Canada at the same time every day. Skype and technology has just opened up his world, it’s really important to him.” With art and creativity always having a special place in her life, Wassell said she could remember getting into trouble at school for drawing when she was supposed to be writing. “Ten years ago I went back to uni for a couple of years to study visual arts at Edith Cowan University. Since then I’ve considered this as something I really want to do with my life.” Speaking to Inspire from her studio on the top floor of the VAC, Wassell said she could allow “her mind to breathe” while she took in the view above the houses on Mt Melville. Not only has the artist just opened her first exhibition but she also took out the top prize to this year’s Great Southern Art Award. Wassell’s pandemic-inspired piece “Siblings” won the City of Albany Acquisitive Prize, earning her $5000 and the opportunity for a supported exhibition for a month at the VAC. “It was a real confidence boost because that was just a piece for me really,” she said. The winning artwork, now part of the City’s art collection, was an abstract representation of the connection between her and her siblings in the context of the pandemic. “My brother and sister are back in the UK. I usually go back and see them every couple of years and I haven’t been able to,” she said. “They’ve just been in my thoughts more.” Clarence is free to view at the VAC from 9am to 4pm weekdays until May 14.