Inhabiting the threshold: the Women's Gallery as liminal space in New Zealand's feminist art history
In the four years between January 1980 and January 1984, a gallery was run in Wellington by a collective of women to display the work of female artists only. This feminist space sought to provide an educational, supportive and inclusive environment, free from the obstacles which were perceived to prohibit women from displaying their work in mainstream art spaces. This thesis tackles the history of this gallery’s reception and seeks to address its absence in the writing of New Zealand’s art history. In reassessing its history, I assert the Women’s Gallery deserves a place within critical accounts of art in New Zealand. Chapter one locates the Women’s Gallery within the cultural and political context of New Zealand society by tracing the development of the women’s art movement, and feminism as a grassroots political movement. An examination of the gallery’s Opening Show serves as an example of the way in which the ideology of the Women’s Gallery shaped its organisational structure. Chapter two pinpoints the time of the gallery’s existence at a point of transformation within feminist thinking. This chapter problematises the evolution of feminist thought from ‘essentialism’ to a critique informed by poststructuralist strategies. A close analysis of artworks demonstrates that the Women’s Gallery was simultaneously occupied by artists who exhibited both tendencies. By proposing Victor Turner’s model of liminality as a framework upon which to base a discussion of the Women’s Gallery, chapter three reframes the gallery as a liminal space. I argue the temporary existence of the gallery allowed women a space – removed from patriarchal power structures – in which to experiment both politically and creatively.