fabulous feminism

fabulous feminism:too many dinner parties : Eastside Gallery Christchurch  31 July to 20 August 2016 : online catalogueweb tiffany









we used to draw each other up close and personal, 1977 hand coloured etching, Tiffany Thornley

fabulous feminism :  too many dinner parties

by Jane Zusters

The success of a dinner does not depend on the number of dishes introduced. It is far better to have fewer courses well cooked and well served than an elaborate, pretentious, badly cooked meal. Mrs Beeton’s All-About Cookery, n.d, Ward, Lock & Co, Ltd,London and Melbourne.










This woman died Icare ( trying to abort herself ) 1978, Allie Eagle, watercolour and mixed media, Collection Auckland City Art Gallery

first course : oysters

In 1975 Judy Chicago published THROUGH  THE FLOWER my struggle as a woman artist. Because of Allie Eagle’s vision, the women’s art movement emerged in Christchurch in the 70’s, amidst the fervour of pro-abortion and anti-Vietnam demonstrations as well as Maori, gay and lesbian rights activism. According to Allie there were lots of great women artists we didn’t know about, as art history was so sexist. She had been reading Why Have There been No Great Women Artists? a 1971 essay by American art historian Linda Nochlin considered a pioneering essay for feminist art history. Allie had a copy of Our Hidden Heritage : five centuries of women artists by Eleanor Tufts which she shared around. She had a Judy Chicago flower print in her living room and was writing to Judy Chicago who she tried to bring to New Zealand. Through Allie I became aware of Judy Chicago and in emulating her like many others, I sought to make art from my own experiences as a woman. We wanted her story rather than his story.

second course : snapper

In 1975 Allie Eagle curated Six Women Artists at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery. She was promoting women artists’ visibility within the art world. I was one of the six artists while still a second year painting student. My work challenged sexual stereotypes in photographs such as a female nude with a hairy armpit, and a man knitting. Allie facilitated the collaborative the women’s art environment at the Canterbury Society of Arts In 1977. As men were not allowed to attend this caused a storm. Allie exhibited art about rape and abortion at the Canterbury Society of Arts in a joint show with me and Anna Keir in 1978. Her works this woman died I care (based on a photograph of a woman who died after having an illegal abortion) and Empathy for a Rape Trial Victim were very controversial. I exhibited my ode to female empowerment portrait of a woman marrying herself. Seventies feminism claiming the personal as political, introducing subjective female autobiography, reclaiming women’s sexuality and craft, challenged the dominant modernist ideology of art for art’s sake espoused by Clement Greenberg. This ideology ruled when I was at Ilam Art School. There is no singular medium or style that unites first generation feminist artists. We often combined different styles and media, including installation, video, body art, conventional painting and photography into works that presented a message about women’s experiences. We wanted to change the world through our art, challenge the established art world and the art historical canon, which favoured male artists. Feminist artists often exhibited in alternative venues. The Women’s Gallery founded by Marian Evans, Anna Kier and Bridie Lonie in 1979 created opportunities and space that previously did not exist for women.

third Course : tripe and onion

In the 80’s women representing their sexuality came to be seen as problematic. First generation feminist artists were seen as pandering to the voyeuristic male gaze as a result of the writings of the French feminists Luce Irigaray, Helene Cixous and Julia Kristeva. The agenda of claiming a matriarchal past and making art about vaginas was termed essentialist and cringe material. We were shamed about the art we were making. In New Zealand Lita Barrie * damned what she termed the ‘Chicago-Lippard school of shared – imagery art ‘ which featured vaginal forms, exploring menstruation and often using pastel colours, soft materials and flowers’. * Barrie, 1986 p 94 / Remissions / towards a deconstruction of Phallic Univocality in Antic magazine number one






pro abortion protest Christchurch 1978  Jane Zusters * Tiffany on left

fourth course : carpet bag steak

Subsequently the women’s art promoted by feminist exhibitions such as Alter/Image curated by Christina Barton and Deborah Lawler-Dormer at the Wellington City Art for Suffrage Centennial Year 1993, largely abandoned directly depicting the body. In the 70’s Rhonda Bosworth photographed herself nude. In Alter/Image she depicts herself wearing a petticoat. In the 80’s she began chopping her photographs into fragments, which she rephotographed along with domestic objects such as tampons and tweezers.  First generation feminist art is represented solely by Allie Eagle’s 1978 watercolor this woman died, I care and a recreation of her 1978 work Risk, a bowl of red jelly embedded with razorblades. In the rush to post-modernist feminist theory, first wave feminist artists like Carol Shepherd and Claudia Pond Eyley were not included. Writing in Art New Zealand, critic Jane Sayles * argued that the curators of the exhibition had followed current international critical discourse too closely, at the cost of addressing the specific nature of New Zealand women’s art, citing ‘the use of imported theory which effectively absents the local and in the process denies what I consider to be the vitally meaningful New Zealandness of the works.’ * Sayles, Jane (Autumn 1994). “Theoretically speaking: Alter/Image in Suffrage Year”. Art New Zealand (70):49–51.

fifth course : kikorangi cheese

In the 90’s there was Riot Grrrl movement in the USA.  Bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Jack off Jill made music about rape, domestic abuse, sexuality and female empowerment. And let’s not forget the guerrilla girls who are working artists who give themselves the personas of dead artists and who are still going strong in challenging the art establishment since the 80’s.Since the digital age a fourth wave of feminists are using facebook and social media to agitate for social justice.. As in the 70’s a focus on female pleasure and sexuality is back on the menu.  In the 70’s symbolism, figuration, narrative and regionalism were all off limits to the serious mainstream artist. 70’s feminism widened the boundaries of art for all artists.










Breast nest, 1980, mixed media ceramic, Jane Zusters, exhibited Mothers – touring Women’s Gallery exhibition, 1981Collection Auckland War Memorial museum

sixth course : midnight feast

by Tiffany Thornley

It all started with the Women’s Liberation Movement and thank god for that. I’d gone to my first liberation meeting in Gainesville, Florida in the USA in 1970. I moved to Christchurch, went to art school and became a feminist in 1975. There were mostly women in my first year group, and we went with our tutor Don Pebbles to the Six Women Artists exhibition at the McDougall Art Gallery. I was excited by the art but nothing was said about feminist art by Don or any other tutors. Ted Bracey gave me a C minus for my essay on Judy Chicago when I normally got B pluses in art history. I went to see him and he muttered what do you expect from a male dominated institution. Because I’d been reading THROUGH THE FLOWER  by Judy Chicago I realised there was a different art world from art school. It all made sense that that the personal was political. My marriage ended the following year and I went to my first women’s art meeting at Allie Eagle’s house at Trafalgar Street just down the road from me. I was also involved with HART (Halt All Racist Tours) and Chippenham Commune. I was politically active and reading Broadsheet and Spare Rib. I shared a studio with Jane Zusters who I first meet when she was photographing street theatre. * see photo pro abortion protest Christchurch 1978  So many women didn’t have their own art space or space or didn’t even think they were entitled to their own space. Those times were so exciting. I wanted my art to express these ideas. I joined the Spiral Collective, which was publishing women’s writing and art. In 1979 we published the third edition of Herstory Diary 1980. We combined living Christchurch artists with historical  women. In 1979 I was coordinator of the first Women’s Arts Festival. We rented the old Library in the Arts Centre and for a weekend. It was hugely successful. Hundreds of women responded with their art work and ideas.  We ran workshops, had a festival of women’s films’ and the Topp twins preformed. It was a great celebration of women’s art and we had fun. Yes it was a heady time. We were accused wrongly of being man haters and breakers of families. Art School was not supportive and nor were the art critics. We had to be strong in the face of controversy. Being part of the Women’s Gallery in Wellington was wonderful. I have always been part of  a strong group of women artists who keep going. We still draw together and organise exhibitions. I’m enjoying the new wave of young feminists who are speaking out. I’m encouraged by the number women who wanted to be in this exhibition. Long live Feminism.







Olympia : Acrylic house paint on model Audrey Baldwin, 2016, video still from 30 minute live performance painting, Julia Holden

Exploiting the possibilities for disrupting traditional painting practices, and aiming directly at subverting the painted trope of the Grand Nude, Olympia (2016), is a contemporary reworking of Édouard Manet’s Olympia of 1863. Combining painting, sculpture, photography and performance, artist Audrey Baldwin is presented in a visceral, three dimensional Performance Painting. Julia Holden

Thank you Judy Chicago, Eastside Gallery, and the artists Colleen Anstey, Sandra Beltman, Lizzie Cook, Clare Hardy, Allie Eagle, Brooke Georgia, Kate Glass, Rebecca Harris, Helen Heliotrope, Margaret Hudson-Ware, Julia Holden, Linda James, Anne-Marie Jean, Bronwyn Judge, Rebecca Harris, Eden Kendell, Robyn Kilty, Kristin Leek, Marilyn Rea-Menzies, Janelle Moore, Margaret Ryley, Shirley Scarlett, Susan Sky, Helen Sutherland, DI Tanner, Tiffany Thornley,  Robyne Voyce, Robyn Webster, Gail Wright, Jane Zusters who exhibited .


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