Celebrating suffrage

Double Portrait, by Frances Hodgkins, at Hocken Gallery.
Double Portrait, by Frances Hodgkins, at Hocken Gallery.
On&On, by Nina Oberg Humphries, at Blue Oyster Gallery.
On&On, by Nina Oberg Humphries, at Blue Oyster Project Space.
Whisper, by Gretchen Albrecht, at Hocken Gallery.
Whisper, by Gretchen Albrecht, at Hocken Gallery.
[Flower Study], by Doris Lusk, at Hocken Gallery.
[Flower Study], by Doris Lusk, at Hocken Gallery.

Whakaniwha, by Metiria Turei, at Blue Oyster Project Space. Photo: supplied
Whakaniwha, by Metiria Turei, at Blue Oyster Project Space. Photo: supplied
125 years ago yesterday, the New Zealand Parliament passed a Bill that gave the vote to all adult women. To mark the occasion, Dunedin’s Hocken Gallery and Blue Oyster Project Space look at the past to discover its relevance today. Rebecca Fox reports.

How New Zealand women's lives have been affected by that one Bill giving women a right to vote 125 years ago is a huge question.

It is one a variety of exhibitions in Dunedin's public institutions aim to provide some insight into this month.

The Hocken Collections is one such institution. It's exhibition, ''Sisters Communing'', draws connections between art and items relating to women gaining the vote.

Hocken curator art, Andrea Bell (left) and head curator pictorial collections Robyn Notman flank a work by former Frances Hodgkins’ Fellow Christine Webster. The work has been included in the ‘‘Sisters Communing’’ exhibition to celebrate 125 since women w
Hocken curator art, Andrea Bell (left) and head curator pictorial collections Robyn Notman flank a work by former Frances Hodgkins’ Fellow Christine Webster. The work has been included in the ‘‘Sisters Communing’’ exhibition to celebrate 125 since women were gained the right to vote in New Zealand. Photo: Christine O'Connor

Exhibition curators Andrea Bell and Robyn Notman wanted to celebrate female artists' achievements as well as the literal references to the suffrage movement held in the Hocken's archives.

''There is a range of works from the historical to the contemporary,'' Notman said.

The concept for the exhibition began with a treasured piece of art by Jacqueline Fahey, ''Sisters Communing'', which celebrates the artistic, domestic, social and political lives of New Zealand women.

Bell says the 1970s work marks a time when many female artists were moving to landscape or abstract painting, but Fahey remained committed to capturing domestic scenes.

''It's a favourite work for us.''

Other works range from a collection of Suffragette badges owned by Lady Anna Stout, to artist Doris Lusk's painted still life [Flower Study] (1940) and Robyn Kahukiwa's bold and powerful Mana Wahine Maori (1993).

These works contrast with the glossy, photographic work of Christine Webster, a Frances Hodgkins' Fellow in 1991.

The work Clairvoyant is one of a series of life-sized cibachromes, created while Webster was living in Paris before coming to Dunedin. It features her Paris landlady with whom she had developed a close friendship. The landlady agreed to model for the series, which reflects the different roles women and men play in life.

Whakaniwha, by Metiria Turei, at Blue Oyster Project Space. Photo: supplied
Whakaniwha, by Metiria Turei, at Blue Oyster Project Space. Photo: supplied

''Christine had access to wonderful props symbolic of what she was trying to say.''

The Hocken bought the work when she was a fellow.

''I love it. It is an important photograph from a New Zealand artist.''

Having such contrasting works from across a range of periods and styles shows what women have achieved since they got the vote, Notman says.

There are so many items related to the suffrage movement in the archives it has been difficult for the pair to make the final selection of what to include - such as a 1869 pamphlet calling for women to be given the vote.

The collection also includes photographs of female politicians, such as Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan, who was regarded as a trailblazer for women and Maori, and 1970s posters encouraging young women to vote.

The pair were also fascinated by a science-fiction novel Anno Domini 2000 written by Julius Vogel, who introduced a Bill to enfranchise women in 1887 which was withdrawn at committee stage. The novel told a story of women ruling the world.

''It's very, very rare for someone of his stature to write a science-fiction book, and even rarer for that vision to have women in charge,'' Notman said.

Another quirky find is the transcript of an essay competition in the 1970s run by the Otago Daily Times in which the winner wrote about a Miss Dalyrimple, an early educator of women in the region.

''I'm not sure if we'll have room to include it.''

They also wanted to pay tribute to the 100-year anniversary of the suffrage vote so have included a paper plate from a tea party held then.

To continue the conversation, five emerging artists visited the Hocken, drawing inspiration from works in its collections.

The artists are using the 125th anniversary as a starting point to examine the relevance of women's suffrage in New Zealand today to create work for an exhibition ''wa[a] o mua'' at the Blue Oyster Project Space.

''From collective action to personal reflection and individual expression, these two exhibitions will offer a wealth of approaches to women's rights, achievements, opinions and shared experiences across generations,'' Notman said.

Co-curator Grace Ryder said using the items at Hocken, each artist - Dunedin graphic designer Erin Broughton, Christchurch-based installation artist Caitlin Clarke, Christchurch's artist Nina Oberg Humphries and Dunedin art students Nadai Wilson and Metiria Turei - had presented a dialogue, ''bringing the people and histories contained within the archive to the fore, continuing and, at times, questioning the multiple narratives between the historical and the present.''

Their work includes photographs, installation, video and textiles.

To see

• ‘‘Sisters Communing’’, Hocken Gallery until November 3.

• On Saturday at 11am Head Curator Pictorial Collections, Robyn Notman, and Curator Art, Andrea Bell will give a tour of the exhibition.

• ‘‘wa[a] o mua’’, Blue Oyster Project Space until September 29. Kai and korero: Saturday 29, 11am.

• Also marking 125 years since New Zealand women got the vote. — ‘‘Voices and Votes - A Tribute to Women’s Suffrage’’, Dunedin City Library Reed Gallery Exhibition.

• ‘‘Suffrage and Beyond 1893-2018’’, Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, Temporary Exhibitions Gallery ‘‘Suffrage 125: A Guide’’, Dunedin Public Art Gallery

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