20 May 2017

Women's Work exhibition challenges stereotypes

8:41 am on 20 May 2017

A new art exhibition in Whangarei featuring Pacific artists is pushing the boundaries about the notion of women's work in everyday society.

Women's Work

Eternal Mother by Jimmy James Kouratoras. Photo: Supplied/ Tui Emma Gillies

Pacific artists are among 15 artists exhibiting at Women's Work, including Sulieti Fieme'a Burrows, Juliana Browneyes-Clifford, Emily Mafile'o, Karlo Mila, Lisa Taouma and Tui Emma Gillies.

The show is aimed at challenging old and new stereotypes around the work of women considering how it can be challenged, celebrated, hidden or illuminated.

Co-curator Billie Lythberg said it is an opportunity for people to respond to normative responses to the tasks of women.

"Because so often these gendered ideas of work have been imposed I think by art historians, by anthropologists, by sociologists. We theorise, we write and then things seem to be set, whereas within communities, especially with artists, things are so much more fluid."

She said this show gave artists the opportunity to present their own definitions for women's roles through each art piece.

"This is something Tui and I have talked about for a long time. And the possibility of having a show at Geoff Wilson gave us the chance to really crystallise that."

Tongan and Oglala Lakota artist Juliana Brown Eyes-Kaho also celebrates the wisdom of elders. Her photos are displayed in Aotearoa for the first time contrasting women's ceremonial regalia with their contribution to the respectful and sustainable harvesting of tatonka or buffalo.

The photos are part of an ongoing project documenting indigenous Native American and Pacific Island women.

Lead artist Tui Emma Gillies has also helped organise the show and contributed a piece constructed around the Tongan word for women, fēfine.

Her first piece of work titled fēfine one, took a month to construct and shows a woman who is breast-feeding with an umbilical cord around her neck that goes down to her heart and is painted onto a tapa cloth.

Women's Work

Juliana Browneyes Kaho's Winyan Ohitika Okolakiciyapi-Brave Women Society. Photo: Supplied/ Tui Emma Gillies

"There is a baby in there and she's trying to look the part and she's trying to look at what the expectations of a mother are today is to just be able to continue to look good and also be able to raise children, sort of like superwoman," she said. "So I wanted to portray that in a piece of art."

Tui Gillies said she also wanted to include her mother Sulieti Burrow's work in their show.

Her mother is well known for her tapa art work and traditional art pieces, among other things.

For this exhibition, she said her mum created a piece showcasing traditional flowers that back in the islands women often used to make flower necklaces in the village.

"She's one of those traditional artists who is an old master of what she does and it was an opportunity to showcase a woman, a very strong woman, who is like I said, traditional," she said.

"So it is good to put her in the show as you need more of these elder people in the shows cos these are the ones who we all pull our strength from and we get our ideas from."

Male Māori artist Jimmy James Kouratoras says he was glad to contribute a painting of a madonna type image that is like a mother figure looking out for us in the afterlife.

"It was a challenge in one way - but on the other hand an opportunity to strip away that masculine kind of hard edge kind of stake my territory to be like no, I actually have an understanding of what a women's work is from a mother's perspective to raise kids and on the other hand to have a child and so I put myself in the middle there. "

Women's Work

Tui Emma Gillies and Sulieti Fieme'a Burrows Ngatu tahina (on left wall). Photo: Supplied/ Tui Emma Gillies

Billie Lythberg said she hopes to take the exhibition to showcase somewhere else after Whangarei and is open to invitations.

The Women's Work exhibition is on display on certain weekdays at Northtec's Geoff Wilson Gallery until June 9.