Museum of Brisbane

The impact of Brisbane women artists, by Miranda Hine

New Woman recognises 100 years of female artists working in Brisbane. It explores personal and professional connections between artists, legacies left by previous generations and the diverse art landscape of Brisbane now.

Perhaps the most difficult part of curating this exhibition was knowing that we couldn’t include every female artist who has contributed to this city in the past century. It simply wasn’t possible with the space and time we had available. Instead, we chose to showcase a cross-section of artists working with diverse mediums, subject matter, themes and experiences.

New Woman features 111 works. Through this volume, the exhibition aims to give a strong impression of just how numerous, how varied, and how significant our artists have been and continue to be.

However, we hope the exhibition raises some questions, too. We are very aware, for example, that this exhibition may not be relevant in a few year’s time, as gender boundaries continue to collapse. However, we feel it’s important to recognise these artists, many of whom have excelled despite, or been overlooked precisely because of, the binary definitions of gender in play in our society. It was vital to us that the exhibition acknowledge alternative experiences of what it means to be an artist in Brisbane, showcasing artists with different experiences of gender, sexuality and cultural identity.

The exhibition also raises questions about what Australian art history has considered valuable. In Australia, art history has often been applied through a European, often male lens. Art created by women into the 20th century was considered to be amateur, domestic craftwork, not of the same standing as that created by male artists. In particular, art created by Aboriginal women was not often seen as valuable enough to collect, so there is very little available in Brisbane from before the mid-1900s. In New Woman, you can trace these early perceptions of female art and watch artists reclaim references to domesticity, femininity and craft in their work as a way of undermining the art historical narrative.

What also comes through strongly in the show is the personal and professional relationships between artists, due to Brisbane’s close-knit arts community. You can see the influences of teachers on their students, and peers on each other. It’s quite amazing that despite the small community, each artist has retained a really unique approach.

The most exciting part of the exhibition, for me, is seeing how contemporary artists are continuing this trajectory, pushing boundaries of medium and theme, to become some of the most recognised artists both nationally and internationally.

– Miranda Hine, Curator


Images: (1) Caroline Barker, Untitled (life class model), c1925, oil on canvas, gift of the artist, 1982, City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane, photo: Carl Warner. (2) Gwendolyn Grant, The Beach Umbrella, 1930, oil on canvas, courtesy Lyceum Club Brisbane Inc., photo: Carl Warner. (3) Virginia Cuppaidge, Pale Blue Jacaranda, 1970, oil on canvas, Museum of Brisbane Collection (Cultural Gift Program in progress donated by the artist), photo: Carl Warner. (4) Margaret Olley, Apples on a Table, c1980, oil on board, private collection, reproduced with permission of the Margaret Olley Art Trust, photo: Carl Warner.