Women's Art in Tropical Landscapes: 11 Women Artists in Townsville,
North Queensland, exhibit and talk about their work
Thesis submitted by Sylvia Anna Catherine DITCHBURN Dip. of Art, Gr. Dip. Mus. Cur., M.C.A. in December 1998 for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Education James Cook University of North Queensland
This thesis explores the association between art making, female experiences and life in Townsville, North Queensland. My own experiences as a woman and an artist working in North Queensland are included as part of the study. The thesis examines the positioning of 11 women artists and looks at how, as artists, these women make sense of their lives, living and working in the tropical landscapes of North Queensland. I used the PhD project to create a space in which a group of women artists could collectively show their work and at the same time make a record of that work and of their understanding of the connections I was exploring. In my talk with them I asked questions such as: what struggles as a woman artist had they overcome, and what resources and support enabled them to achieve and maintain a professional level of art practice, how are their experiences as women embedded in their work, and how do the cultural and physical landscapes of North Queensland affect their art. The difficulties associated with regional art practice, of being outside the mainstream, were also discussed, for example, the lack of visibility that regional artists experience, the difficulty in accessing important audiences for contemporary work, and lack of inclusion of their work in major shows in capital cities.
This study is significant because, as well as celebrating the work of 11 women artists, it places their work in the context of their lived experiences in this region at this time. The thesis should be read in relation to the women's creative works as shown in the accompanying video (Ditchburn 1996a) of the exhibition Plenty: Women Artists of Townsville (1996) and the exhibition catalogue (Ditchburn 1996b) (Vol II). In curating the exhibition I wanted to show the richness and diversity of art work created by women artists working in Townsville. I also wanted the work to reflect their ideas of how 'Plenty' might be represented by them. I did not impose a curatorial theme which would constrain and limit the work they produced for the exhibition, but rather invited them to select or create a body of work which best represented their art practice. The concept of developing a theoretical space which begins with the specificity of women, offered by Elizabeth Grosz in The In(ter)vention of Feminist Knowledges (1988), allowed me to create a space in which women's stories of being artists in this particular region could be told. By devoting a chapter to each artist I have made it possible for each woman to tell her own story in her own words as well as through her creative work. I drew on the model of Susan Mitchell's book Icons, Saints & Divas: Intimate Conversations with Women who Changed the World (1997) and Anna Voigt's New Visions, New Perspectives: Voices of Contemporary Australian Women Artists (1996) for the format of presenting the transcripts of oral material as narratives.