What do you call a group of artists? There’s no official collective noun, but artists are so often clustered together in group exhibitions that there should be. Placed next to other pieces that share or contrast a specific idea is usually a pretty good way to digest an artist’s work more thoroughly.

These group shows unravel ideas about emotion, materials, humanness and familiarity versus strangeness.

Soft Core
Centred on sculptural works that are soft and squishy in one way or another, this group exhibition will tour regional galleries throughout the state until January next year. Curated by Michael Do, the exhibition was conceived as a kind of antidote to traditional bronze, alabaster or stone sculpture, heralding 20th century anti-establishment thinkers such as Marcel Duchamp.

Softness is approached in a number of different ways in the exhibition. Some pieces are soft to the touch, others appear cushioned but are actually hard. Some address the idea of malleability as an emotional state of being. The show features large-scale pieces from 13 artists, both established and emerging. You’ll find Patricia Piccinini’s wide-eyed alien-like baby Foundling; Todd Robinson’s sagging, cement-filled balloons; and work from New York-based artist Tony Oursler. There’s also a toppled-over, honey-coloured inflatable rabbit – a piece titled Cosmo McMurtry by New Zealand-based sculptor Michael Parekowhai.

Until May 14 at Hawkesbury Regional Gallery.

A Screen of Flesh
For its third group exhibition since opening in November last year, COMA Gallery has brought four artists together to explore ideas about the human body. The exhibition will examine attitudes about bodies as physical objects and as organisms, as well as the various personalities and lives that inhabit the flesh.

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COMA has proved it has a knack for coupling of-the-moment international art stars with Sydney’s own. Among the artists in A Screen of Flesh is New York-based artist Tschabalala Self, whose curved fabric and acrylic figures have received worldwide attention since her first major solo show in London in January. Self’s work will be shown alongside Sydney painter Will Cooke and pieces by London artists Nicholas Cheveldave and Athena Papadopoulos.

May 26 to June 23.

Familiar Stranger
Artworks in this exhibition attempt to reconcile the push and pull between memory and reality – a ceaseless tussle between what was then and what is now. Among the featured works in Familiar Stranger is Bangladeshi-born Shumon Ahmed’s low-lit installation containing a black push-dial phone poised between two hanging polaroids. Titled What I have forgotten could fill an ocean, what is not real never lived, the piece references the idea of returning home after years spent away and finding familiar things are now strange.

Pieces in Familiar Stranger focus on migrant histories, and the singular search for legitimacy in returning home. Also featured in the show is Chun Yin Rainbow Chan, Bashir Makhoul, Veer Munshi, Shireen Taweel and Curtis Taylor.

Until May 21.

Other exhibitions worth visiting in May include Alex Seton’s first solo show since 2014, Monument, which opens May 11 at Sullivan+Strumpf. Garage Barbershop also opens May 11 at Blacktown Arts Centre. It’s a photographic series by fashion photographer Harold David telling the story of self-taught garage barber Charles Lomu and his five apprentices.