Women’s Work explores gender and art

20 April 2017

Women’s Work explores gender and art

An artistic exploration of gender-based tasks is the basis for an exhibition of work by multiple artists, taking place at NorthTec’s Geoff Wilson Gallery.

Entitled Women’s Work, the exhibition considers how gender stereotypes pertaining to Pacific arts are challenged in Aotearoa-New Zealand. What does a rigid male-female binary exclude or preclude?

Alysn Midgelow-Marsden, Creative Industries Education Coordinator, said: “Women’s Work has connotations in our everyday life: tasks and jobs that require the nurturing of children, the feeding of the family or the cleaning and managing of a house or workspace; while Men’s Work is often seen as tasks or jobs requiring strength or the handling of money.

“When it comes to the arts there are also traditions around what’s considered Women’s and Men’s Work, especially in the Pacific described and delineated by anthropologists and art historians. For example, tapa cloth making and decorating, weaving and the making of personal adornments are seen as Women’s Work, while carving is seen as Men’s Work.

“In the diaspora, these gendered categories are contested. For example, when a man won the 2015 Wallace Art Awards Supreme Award with a huge Tongan tapa cloth, some questioned whether this was appropriate.”

Lead artist Tui Emma Gillies said: “For the exhibition Women’s Work we have asked our invited artists to take note of what comes to mind when they hear that phrase. What does it mean to them? How do they respond to it? What’s their knee-jerk reaction?

“And then to explore that in the context of the traditions and culture of Pacific peoples both in their home islands and Aotearoa-New Zealand. We believe just hearing the phrase 'Women’s Work' will conjure up immediate reactions and ideas in the minds of both the artists we have approached and the exhibition's audience.”

Static works will be complemented by video works with a focus on women's work, including Tui Emma Gillies’ ‘Falevai Flava’ and Vea Mafile‘o’s documentary on tapa making. The exhibition includes both established and emerging artists, in keeping with the commitment to the 'women's work' of nurturing and inspiring.

Women’s Work will be curated by Tui Emma Gillies and Dr Billie Lythberg. It will be launched at the gallery on the Raumanga campus on Thursday, 11 May, from 4pm to 6pm. It will then be open for public viewing on Wednesdays (10am to 6pm) and Thursdays (10am to 4pm) between 11 May and 9 June.

A series of special events will be held during the exhibition. On Monday, 15 May and Monday, 29 May, between 11am and 3pm, artist-in-residence, Tui Emma Gillies will be painting tapa and available to discuss her work and techniques with visitors.

On Thursday, 18 May from 1pm, the gallery will host an exhibition discussion featuring artists and academics. Artists Tui Emma Gillies and Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows will be in conversation with anthropologist, Dr Phyllis Herda, and art historian, Dr Billie Lythberg.


  • Juliana Browneyes-Clifford

  • Sulieti Fieme‘a Burrows

  • Tui Emma Gillies

  • Angus Gillies

  • Jimmy Kouratoras

  • Ana Tupou Lakusa

  • Vea Mafile‘o

  • Emily Mafile‘o

  • Karlo Mila

  • Visesio Siasau

  • Reina Sutton

  • Jay Tauamiti 

  • Lisa Taouma

  • Tracey Tawhiao

  • Serene Tay

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