Feminist Art Networkers

1982 – 1988

Feminist Art Networkers

1982 – 1988

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.

Feminist Art Networkers (FAN) was a small but influential group founded by members of the Association of Women Artists (AWA) to take action on issues which they saw as crucial to working feminist artists in New Zealand.

Juliet Batten organised the first meeting, on 11 October 1982. At a course at Berkeley University, California, taught by feminist art historian Sherry Buckburrough, she gained 'first-hand knowledge of the rapidly developing women's art movement'. [1] She came back convinced of the importance of networking, both within and between countries, and of the need for a group which was overtly concerned with feminist art and art politics. 'By being together and declaring ourselves feminist we gave other women permission to identify as feminist artists.' [2]

Members included working artists Claudia Pond Eyley, Carole Shepheard, Merylyn Tweedie and Elizabeth Eastmond; Cheryll Sotheran (later Chief Executive of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa), who was then, like Eastmond, an art history lecturer; Alexa Johnston, curator of New Zealand painting and sculpture at Auckland City Art Gallery; and critic Priscilla Pitts. In answer to an American survey, the group described itself as containing a range of feminisms: socialist, radical, radical lesbian.

The aims as first stated stressed links with feminist artists overseas, but in practice FAN focused more on the status of women's art in New Zealand. Speaking mainly as individuals, its members repeatedly drew attention to and challenged the meagre representation of women, and the low status of the crafts associated with women, in teaching institutions, exhibitions, dealer galleries, seminars and published work. Their actions included a 1983 survey of Art New Zealand's content in relation to gender ('It helps if you are nude – or dead') [3] and criticism of the scope of the Te Māori exhibition (1984) as representing only 'one half of Māori culture’. [4] They also worked behind the scenes to promote more equal access for women to funding and to major showing opportunities.

Educating themselves, the public and those with power in the art world was another important focus. FAN members took part in the earliest seminars on women's art and sexism in the arts, for example at 'F1' in Wellington in 1981, and at the University of Auckland in 1983. In 1984 FAN published the first of three postcard sets featuring full-colour reproductions of work by contemporary New Zealand women artists, a venture which proved both educative and profitable. Members worked to ensure that women made up half the selection committee for the important May 1985 ANZART exhibition, held in Auckland. They also arranged a feminist art seminar at which Australian Julie Ewington gave a landmark paper and 'post-modernism was discussed for the first time in feminist circles'. [5]

From mid 1985 the central project was compiling, in collaboration with Māori and Pacific Islands women, the 1987 Herstory Diary featuring women artists. This politically complex undertaking proved extremely demanding; moreover, by 1988 FAN members felt that many of their targets had been reached. In 1991 a last lunch was held and the remaining funds were distributed to a Māori women's art collective in Whanganui.

Anne Else


[1] Auckland Star, 14 December 1982.

[2] Juliet Batten, personal interview, Auckland, 1 November 1991.

[3] 'In the Red, or, It helps if you are nude – or dead, an analysis by gender of articles, reviews and artists' works discussed in Art New Zealand, issues 1–24', Elizabeth Eastmond and Cheryll Sotheran, Craccum, 27 September 1983, p. 13.

[4] Letter to New Zealand Listener, 14 December 1984, FAN archives.

[5] Minutes, 1 December 1988.

Unpublished sources

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

FAN collection, 1982–1988, Auckland City Art Gallery Research Library

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