‘Autonomous Bodies’ exhibition at Wellington’s New Zealand Portrait Gallery platforms art outside traditional male perspective

An exhibition centring “non-male” perspectives launches today at Wellington’s New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata.

Platforming 24 female, transgender and non-binary artists, curator Gina Matchitt said the exhibition titled Autonomous Bodies celebrates art outside the traditional male-dominated perspectives.

“There’s a lot of revisiting and rewriting of art history in the last few years, which has been re-inserting women artists’ stories,” Matchitt said.

“I thought it would be a really good opportunity to forefront some New Zealand women artists and have a diversity of them – from Pākehā women artists to Māori artists and also we’ve got a few transgender and non-binary artists as well.

“The premise was to really promote the talent that’s here.”

The exhibition was designed to platform the voices that had often sometimes been missing in traditional art history.

“I wouldn’t say these artists are overlooked but male artists still dominate,” Matchitt said.

“It’s also about women having the power to portray themselves in the way that they want, that they have that autonomy.

“There’s a wide range of how women are portrayed in the exhibition, there’s a wide range of mediums, from photography to painting, a video work, a few sculptural pieces.”

Featuring names such as Lisa Reihana, Yuki Kihara and Holly Walker, the exhibition aimed to show how these artists assert their agency against historical norms.

“The myth of male artistic genius is finally being put to rest,” Matchitt said.

“Growing acceptance of the complexity and plurality of gender and sexuality contributes to the development of a more expansive world.

“It is this shifting reality that Autonomous Bodies acknowledges and advocates.”

Non-binary artist Jo Bragg has three works in the exhibition, from a series of 10 photographs from 2016, entitled Days since and again so soon.

Bragg said the photographs were initially responding to a series of 10 questions from a friend, and aimed to make use of Wellington’s urban spaces.

While the exhibition centred non-male perspectives, they aimed to confront broader topics of power and representation, Bragg said.

“This show is obviously about women and wāhine and queer and non-binary … but at the end of the day it comes down to broader topics such as power, representation.

“As much as it’s about gender and sexuality, underlying those things is a broader social political concern that actually impacts everybody in essence.

“Power, representation, equality – those bigger things are what matters to me in a show like this. I see gender as a starting point to talk about power dynamics.”

The exhibition had been delayed due to levels 4 and 3 in Wellington, but was due to open on Monday, September 13.

Due to the new level 2 restrictions, Matchitt said two large works were unable to be delivered from Te Papa, and would not arrive until alert level 1.

But she said it had been a great process to watch the exhibition take shape.

“You never really know what it’s going to look like until you’ve got them all together.

“They are diverse in size and medium and range of artist, but I reckon it all works together quite well.”

Autonomous Bodies is showing at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata, on the Wellington Waterfront, until Sunday, November 7.

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