Association of Women Artists

1980 - ?

Association of Women Artists

1980 - ?

Theme: Arts and crafts

This essay written by Anne Else was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993.

Update coming soon!

1980 – 1993

By the early 1990s, a high proportion of women artists living and working in Auckland had had some contact with the Association of Women Artists (AWA); in 1991, 115 individuals and twelve institutions were members. AWA was supported by Outreach, Auckland's cultural centre for the visual and performing arts. It defined its policy as supportive, providing a safe structure for women working in the visual arts and related areas to gain confidence in developing their work; and as educative, promoting an informed, non-sexist climate for women's art, and ensuring it was recorded.

In 1980 Auckland artist Carole Shepheard and Don Soloman, education curator at Outreach, met American artist Connie Fleres, who had exhibited at the Washington Women's Art Centre and had experience with collectives. The outcome of their discussions was a multi-media exhibition, 'Women in the Arts' (23 June–14 July 1980). Shepheard invited contributions from all the women artists she could locate, from beginners and 'unknowns' to regular exhibitors. Wellington artists Barbara Strathdee and Vivian Lynn and gallery director Janne Land selected the work of 38 women.

Organising this exhibition 'made visible a community of well over a hundred women artists at various stages of career development', [1] and while it ran, an evening was held where the artists could meet.

It was apparent that most of the women in the show had not had any communication at all and were eager to see who the others were, how they worked, what difficulties there were (if any) … All wanted to see some sort of ongoing group established and at this point the Association was formed. [2]

AWA became much more active in 1981, when a working group began to arrange meetings, slide talks and exhibitions. According to Shepheard, 'having a stable, recognisable, supportive base' at Outreach was crucial; it gave the group visibility and served as a contact point for the public. [3] The support of established artists such as Lois Mclvor and Merylyn Tweedie was also important.

Any interested woman could join. Through a newsletter, members learnt of relevant publications, exhibitions and courses. Local and overseas speakers discussed topics such as how to apply for grants, the latest developments in women's art here and overseas, and types of work, such as Pacific tapa cloth, which had received little attention from mainstream artists.

Funds came from subscriptions and a low (10 percent) commission on exhibition sales. From 1982 there were two members' exhibitions a year. One was unselected, giving 'an opportunity for those who have not exhibited widely to take part'; [4] to keep the size manageable, from 1985 it was restricted to one medium. The other was based on a relevant theme, such as relationships between women, or women and culture. (However, the controversial Outreach show 'Images of Men', 1981, was not organised by AWA.) These extremely diverse exhibitions included a wide range of styles and media, for example fabric and fibre art, visual diaries and artists' books, performance, photography, film and video. Working collaboratively also featured, and workshops encouraged women artists to try new directions.

In the early 1990s the association was continuing to attract enthusiastic, energetic new members. Perhaps its most important feature was the way in which its exhibitions and other activities 'stressed that art is ... a social construct and that the power relationships within society largely determine not only what is "good" or "bad" art, but even what art is in the first place'. [5]

Anne Else


[1] Gill, 1989.

[2] Carole Shepheard, correspondence, 23 December 1991.

[3] Carole Shepheard, correspondence, 23 December 1991.

[4] AWA newsletters, 1982.

[5] Gill, 1989.

Unpublished sources

Association of Women Artists, 'Cover to Cover', photocopied AWA newsletters and exhibition catalogues, reviews, news items and articles relating to AWA, 1980–90, compiled by Claudia Pond Eyley and Beth Serjeant, ATL

Juliet Batten and Claudia Pond Eyley, interviewed by Anne Else, Auckland, 1991

Published sources

Baskett, Pat, 'Beliefs are as strong as ever'. New Zealand Herald, 12 October 1989

Gill, Linda, 'Eight Years On: The Auckland Association of Women Artists', Art New Zealand, Autumn 1989, pp. 86–89

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