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The negotiation of circumstance : New Zealand women artists, c.1890-1914




Plumridge, Elizabeth Winifred

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As a study of the emergence of women artists in New Zealand, c.1890-l9l4, this thesis is also a study in the ideological and material basis of Cultural production and Cultural life in the colony. It is argued here that during this period, the imperial relationship created an environment in the colony which both empowered and disabled women as Artists. The material conditions of life and work in the Art world, the way the recruitment, practice and profession of Artists was organized, enabled women to compete on terms of near equality with men. Further, the congruence that existed through ideology between Woman and Artist, meant women could accept themselves, and be accepted by others, as Artists. Art was within their sphere. However, colonial society necessitated training as a professional, in Europe and in Europe the circumstances were different. The advantageous and enabling circumstances did not exist in the same way in the Art circles of European cities. In these environments, the ideology and practice of Art differentiated more markedly between men and women. Colonial women were doubly disabled in Europe, once by their colonial origin and then again by gender. Women existed as Artists most easily within enclaves in Europe where the conditions, customs and methods of work most closely replicated those of their colonial homeland. This led however, led women away from places of influence and into marginalised expatriate networks or into perpetual studenthood. The world of New Zealand's painters was one of complex, and contradictory or ambiguous possibilities at the level of both ideology and material conditions. The model of oppression-and-resistance usually employed in women's history cannot easily deal with this, and make their lives comprehensible. Concepts must be developed to allow for the more complex effects of the way power operates both productively and repressively. The formulation of the 'negotiation of circumstance' has allowed this complexity to emerge.






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