This Know My Name learning resource encourages students to draw inspiration from the work of Australian women artists and to investigate the themes and lineages that connect artists across time. The resource focuses on the National Gallery of Australia’s Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now Part 1 exhibition and provides context for the Gallery’s broader Know My Name initiative.
Know My Name in Context
Know My Name celebrates the work of women artists and aims to enhance understanding of the contributions they have made and continue to make to Australia’s cultural life. This project and exhibition heralds a new chapter for the Gallery in addressing historical gender bias and reconsidering the many stories of Australian art through the lens of women’s practices.
Women artists remain underrepresented in Australian collections, exhibitions and histories and only 25% of the Gallery’s Australian art collection is by women. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women represent 33% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art collection. The Gallery is working to redress this imbalance through the various Know My Name projects, future acquisitions and programming.
The Know my Name initiative tells a new story of Australian art. Showcasing art made by women, the exhibition looks to moments in which women led progressive practices to create new forms of art and cultural commentary. Revealing creative and intellectual relationships between artists through time, Know My Name proposes alternative histories while enriching known ones.
Read more about the Know My Name initiative.
- Can you name five women artists from memory? Try asking a friend or family member – can they name five women artists? Know My Name is part of a global movement to increase representation of women artists. It builds on the work of groups supporting gender equity across the arts including The Countess Report, Sheila Foundation and the #5WomenArtists campaign by the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.
- Read The Countess Report overview on page 15 of the Gallery’s Know My Name issue of Artonview and discuss the points that you think are positive, negative and interesting. The Countess Report is an independent artist-run initiative that publishes data on gender representation in the Australian contemporary art world. Take a look at the 2019 Countess Report to see the most recent national data.
- Explore a selection of works by Australian women artists in the National Gallery of Australia’s Collection. Note down five artists whose work you are particularly drawn to, or curious to learn more about. Choose one artist to research in depth. Pair with a classmate and share some examples of the artist’s work. Discuss what you have learnt about the artist and their inspirations as well as any questions you still have.
- Devise and make your own creative strategy to help people to learn, remember and share the names of Australian women artists, for example you could design a boardgame or write a song.
- Create a work of art that pays tribute to the Australian woman artist of your choice. Rather than copying their work, think about what subjects interest the artist and what visual conventions stand out in their work. For example, if you are drawn to an artist whose portraits tell stories through expressive use of colour, line and text, try using these elements to create a portrait of someone that you care about.
- The National Gallery of Australia was established in 1967 and opened to the public in 1982. Research how women’s rights have changed over time – from the 1960s to now and in earlier periods of history, including the nineteenth-century women’s suffrage movement. The Australian Human Rights Commission provides some examples.
- Who do you think holds the greatest power and influence in our society? For example, look at the past Prime Ministers of Australia, Australia’s 50 Richest People, the past directors of the National Gallery of Australia and any other roles that you consider to be positions of power. What do you notice? In what ways might these people influence which artists we see, collect and remember?
- Watch the Tate’s video Guerrilla Girls – ‘You have to Question What You See’. The Guerrilla Girls are an anonymous group of feminist artists devoted to fighting sexism and racism within the art world. The group was formed in New York City in 1985.
As you’re watching the video, or immediately after watching, note down a few examples of:
- Strategies that you can see the Guerrilla Girls using to communicate.
- Ideas or messages that you think the Guerrilla Girls want us to remember.
- Questions that you would like to ask the Guerrilla Girls.
- Consider and discuss the idea that ‘…for centuries the great cultural and ideological questions portrayed through art have been fashioned through the eyes of only a portion of the population...’, as highlighted in the Sydney Morning Herald’s editorial Art’s gender imbalance affects way we see the world. Why do you think it is important to increase the representation of artists who identify as women in the national art collection?
- Discuss what fairness means to you. The words equality and equity both relate to fairness. Equality means treating everyone the same regardless of their needs. Equity means achieving fair outcomes by treating people or groups differently depending on their needs. Can you think of some examples of different needs or privileges that mean some people may require different kinds of support to achieve fair outcomes?
- From 1967 to 2020 the National Gallery of Australia has collected approximately 160,000 works of art. Women artists represent only 25% of the 100,000 works in the Gallery’s Australian art collection, 33% of the 7140 works in the works in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art collection, and 7.5% of the 55,600 works in the international art collection. Calculate how many works of art the Gallery has collected per year on average. Explore some different options for how the Gallery could approach collecting in the future. For example, if the Gallery continues collecting at the same rate, what percentage of works collected each year should be works by women artists? How many years do you think it might take to achieve a fair gender balance?
- Visit a local gallery or view an online exhibition with work by various artists. Count the number of works and artists in the exhibition. Count how many works are by women, then calculate as a percentage of the total works. What does this reveal? Discuss your findings.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers
Tjanpi Desert Weavers is an Indigenous governed and directed social enterprise of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council. Tjanpi (meaning wild harvested grass) began in 1995 as a series of basket-making workshops facilitated by NPY Women’s Council in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands of WA. Women wanted meaningful and culturally appropriate employment on their homelands to better provide for their families. Building upon a long history of using natural fibres to make objects for ceremonial and daily use, the women quickly took to coiled basketry and were soon sharing their new-found skills with relatives and friends on neighbouring communities. It was not long before Tjanpi artists began experimenting with producing sculptural forms, and today Tjanpi supports over 400 women across three states (NT, SA and WA) to make spectacular contemporary fibre art.
During March 2020, on the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, Tjanpi artists came together to create Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters). Working side by side, the artists drew on their cultural knowledge to make eight woven figures representing the seven sisters and Wati Nyiru (or Yurla, as he is known in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands) and a large woven dome referencing the Pleiades star cluster. The Seven Sisters is an epic ancestral story that has an important underlying teaching element, reinforcing law and cultural knowledge. It follows the journey of seven sisters as they are pursued across Country by Wati Nyiru/Yurla, who is chasing the eldest sister. The sisters constantly try to evade their pursuer, leaving traces of their journey in the landscape. In an attempt to escape they eventually launch themselves into the sky, transforming into the stars that form the Pleiades. Wati Nyiru/Yurla follows and becomes the Orion constellation. The retelling and depiction of this story relays important information on kinship and connection to cultural sites.
This artwork explores the narrative from the perspective of artists from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands and the songline centres on a cave site at Wanarn in Western Australia where the Seven Sisters hide in an effort to escape their pursuer.
- The Seven Sisters songlines are among the most significant of the extensive creation tracks that traverse Australia. Songlines trace astronomical and geographical elements, connecting sacred sites and telling ancestral stories. On the National Museum of Australia’s Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters webpage, watch the digital dome Travelling Kungkarangkalpa Art Experience to hear the story of the Seven Sisters. After watching the video, discuss your observations, thoughts and questions. Explore the Seven Sisters interactive micro-site to learn more.
- Tjanpi Desert Weavers’ Seven Sisters installation is woven from materials including tjanpi (the Pitjantjatjara word for grass) and raffia. Take some time to look at this work of art from different angles. What aspects of the installation stand out most to you and what are you curious about?
- Watch the Tjanpi Desert Weavers creating art on Country in ICTV’s video. What motivates the Tjanpi Desert Weavers to make their work? What elements of their art-making process looks challenging or exciting to you?
- Weave your own raffia basket using the Tjanpi Desert Weavers’ video tutorial and step-by-step instructions. Learn to Weave kits are available online, or you can start with materials that you already have. After learning how to make a basket, look at the Tjanpi Desert Weavers’ innovative sculptures and animations. Brainstorm ideas for shapes and forms that you would like to attempt to make using your new weaving skills.
Connection with Country
- In an Indigenous context connection to Country is central to identity. What does Country mean to you? Anmatyerre artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s ancestral Country Alhalkere (north of Alice Springs) was at the centre of her cultural life. What do you see when you look at Kngwarreye’s painting Untitled (Alhalker) 1992 as a whole? What more do you see when you move closer or zoom in on the details? Emily described the subject of her art as ‘…whole lot, that’s whole lot, Awelye (my Dreaming), Arlatyeye (pencil yam), Arkerrthe (mountain devil lizard), Ntange (grass seeds), Tingu (a Dream-time pup), Ankerre (emu), Intekwe (a favourite food of emus, a small plant), Atnwerele (green bean), and Kame (yam seed).’ How do you think Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s connection to Country is reflected in her painting?
- Rosalie Gascoigne was inspired by her local environment around Canberra. One of the places that captured her imagination was the flat, luminous environment of Lake George where she found hundreds of white feathers shed from the underside of the wings of black swans. Look at Gascoigne’s sculptural floor-installation Feathered fence 1979. What materials and textures has Gascoigne used and how do they relate to each other? How does this work of art differ from the standard look and function of a fence? What feelings does it evoke? See the digital version of Rosalie Gascoigne: A catalogue raisonné by Martin Gascoigne to learn more about her life and art.
- When installed in full, Bea Maddock’s Terra Spiritus...with a darker shade of pale. 1993–98 runs over forty metres and depicts Tasmania’s entire coastline. What does the experience of moving along this panoramic work and looking at the coast from the sea make you think about? Discuss Maddock’s choice of materials, use of light and dark tones and incorporation of language. How does Bea Maddock acknowledge Country? See QAGOMA’s Blog Experience the Journey: Bea Maddock’s Terra Spiritus… for an insight into how this work was made.
- Take some time to connect with the natural environment in your local area. Go on a slow walk or simply sit under a special tree. Put away all distractions and allow yourself to be in the moment. Investigate the textures around you – how do they feel? What do you hear and smell? Try lying down and looking up at the sky, looking at the shadows on the ground, or looking closely at the veins of a leaf. Create a collage that conveys your experience and memories of being in the environment. Incorporate recycled or natural materials to achieve a variety of textures.
 Interview with Rodney Gooch, Soakage Bore, 1990, translated by Kathleen Petyarre. Quoted in Margo Neale (ed.) Emily Kame Kngwarreye: Alhalkere Paintings from Utopia, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1998.
Collaboration and Care
- Look at Tower of babel 1989–2014, a collaborative work of art coordinated by Vivienne Binns. Many participants contributed to this work, including high profile artists, family members, friends and acquaintances. Considering the work overall, and looking at aspects of detail, how are diversity and inclusion represented in the visual format, content and intentions behind this collaborative project? Why do you think Vivienne Binns decided to title the work Tower of babel? The British Museum’s Tower of Babel video provides some cultural and historical context.
- Artist Marie McMahon was one of Vivienne Binns’ collaborators on the Tower of babel. After an experience travelling through Tikilaru Country in the Tiwi Islands in 1980 with traditional custodian Piparo (Winnie Munkara), McMahon created her political poster You are on Aboriginal land. 1984. In 1996 Gamilaraay/Wailwan/Biripi artist r e a’s work Resistance (flag) 1996 was hung publicly from a pole at Tobugule/Tobegully (Bennelong Point) near where the British Union Jack flag was first planted in Australian soil. Compare and contrast McMahon’s poster and r e a’s flag. Discuss the visual conventions that each artist has used, the impact each work has on you, and their relevance today.
- What does it mean to care? Share some examples of how care can be expressed and experienced on a personal level as well as in a broader societal context. Over time, Australian women artists have created works of art in response to a wide range of social issues, including women’s rights, land rights, Indigenous rights, and immigration. What do you think these issues have in common? How can artists affect change through their work?
- Work with your class to coordinate a collaborative and inclusive art project. Select a theme and standard format that participants can personalise or transform, such as a shoebox or a post card. Agree upon any basic instructions needed, while allowing room for creative freedom. Your class might start by making their own contributions before inviting participation from the wider community. Brainstorm ideas for how to bring all the individual pieces together and discuss where the collaborative work could be displayed.
 Brenda L. Croft, ‘Advance Australia fair’, https://australianart.gov.au/exhibition/tactility/default.cfm?MnuID=6&Essay=2#_edn5
- Grace Cossington Smith’s The sock knitter 1915 is considered to be one of the first Post-Impressionist paintings created in Australia. This image has become a symbol for women’s involvement in World War I, contrasting ‘the usual narratives of masculine heroism in wartime by focusing instead on the quiet steady efforts of the woman at home.’ Examine Grace Cossington Smith’s use of visual conventions, such as shape and colour. Why do you think this work of art was ground-breaking for its time, and why is it still relevant now?
- In 2004, Ku Ku/Erub/Mer artist Destiny Deacon recreated Cossington Smith’s iconic painting. Deacon’s photograph, Fiona Hall, artist shows the artist Fiona Hall knitting one of her own works of art out of VHS video tape. Compare and contrast Deacon and Cossington Smith’s work. What does Deacon’s recreation add to the conversation about women in art? How does Deacon express the importance of legacy and lineage in her work?
- Photographer Carol Jerrems’ and writer Virginia Fraser’s 1974 book, A book about Australian women, comprises 134 photographs and accompanying interviews – a collective portrait of women at the time. Compare Grace Cossington Smith’s 1916 Study of a head: self-portrait and Carol Jerrems’ 1974 portrait (Grace Cossington Smith, OBE). Discuss the similarities and differences that you can see. Why do you think Grace Cossington Smith was included in A book about Australian women?
- Using a zine template, create your own zine about the Australian women artists that inspire you. Some artists in the Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now exhibition are visually, conceptually or historically linked together, while others are connected by relationships and influences. Plan the design and layout of your zine to highlight the links between artists.
 The sock knitter, Grace Cossington Smith, Art Gallery of New South Wales, https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/OA18.1960/, accessed 24/8/20.
Life as Art
- Look closely at Ewa Pachucka’s monumental work Landscape and bodies 1972. How would you describe the mood of this scene? What do you imagine the sculpture would feel like to touch? What sorts of people, objects or environments come to mind when you think about crochet?
Historically, in Western culture, artistic mediums such as oil painting and bronze sculpture were considered more important and valuable than ‘feminine’ or craft-based traditions like crochet. What do you think inspired Ewa Pachucka to give up painting and embrace crochet in the 1970s?
- List all the elements that you can see in Ponch Hawkes’ photograph Mrs Mimi Torsh and her daughter Dany 1976 from her series Our Mums and us. How would you describe the atmosphere in the room? In what ways might body language, facial expressions, clothing, or personal objects help to tell a story about Mimi and Dany’s relationship? Discuss if and how you can relate to Ponch Hawkes’ reflection that ‘feminism helped me to understand that my mother was actually a woman too, and not just a mother’.
- Look at Micky Allan’s photograph Babies IV [with dummy] 1976. Where is your eye drawn first and what visual conventions has the artist used to direct your focus? How does Allan’s hand-colouring with pencil and watercolour affect the way that you feel about the subject of her photograph? Consider how Ponch Hawkes and Micky Allan’s photographs compare to those you might find in a family album.
Create a work of art that challenges expectations about materials and breaks down historical boundaries between art and craft. Take inspiration from Ewa Pachucka, who chose a subject traditionally associated with painting and reimagined it as a huge crocheted sculpture. Consider what materials and techniques you are drawn to and how they could be used differently. For example, you could use embroidery or cross-stitch to draw a streetscape.
 Stephen Zagala, ‘Ponch Hawkes: works from the MGA Collection’ , https://issuu.com/mgaphotography/docs/ponch_hawkes_works-from-the-mga-col, accessed 23/9/20.
I made this painting in honour of First Nation mothers, whose children were forcibly stolen from them by white governments and institutions, in order to assimilate the children. In Roman Orthodox Catholic art there are early depictions of the Madonna and Child (Jesus) as black people, which continues today. I wanted to hold a mirror up to the hypocrisy of governments that honour the sacredness of a black Madonna and child, while at the same time stealing First Nation children from their mothers.
- What do you see when you look at Badimaya artist Julie Dowling’s Black Madonna: Omega 2004? How does Black Madonna: Omega refer to different cultural traditions? Julie Dowling states that she made Black Madonna: Omega ‘in honour of First Nation mothers, whose children were forcibly stolen from them by white governments and institutions,’ including three generations of her own family. How does this information affect what you see and feel when you look at this work of art? Read Dowling’s response to questions from a student to learn more about her art practice.
- The Westbury quilt 1900–1903 is the oldest work in the Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now exhibition. It was created by Misses Hampson and her seven children at their home in Westbury, Tasmania, between 1900 and 1903. How would you describe the textures, colours, lines and shapes that the family incorporated in their hand-embroidered and hand-appliqued quilt? Which details capture your attention?
- Compare and contrast The Westbury quilt with Julie Dowling’s Black Madonna: Omega 2004. How do the symbols and imagery reflect the artists’ lives, values and experiences of mothering?
- Mothering encompasses varied and complex experiences. Ask somebody that you know if they would be willing to record an oral history talking to you about their thoughts and experiences in relation to mothering. The person that you talk to could be a mother, but they do not have to be. They may wish to talk to you about their mother, grandmother or another mother-figure that has been important to them, or they may choose to talk about mothering or not mothering children of their own. Try to ask open-ended questions and practise active listening. Create a drawing or 2D animation inspired by your conversation.
 Black Madonna: Omega, Julie Dowling, Art Gallery of Western Australia, https://sc.artgallery.wa.gov.au/20170030-black-madonna-omega, accessed 23/9/20.
- Look at Julie Rrap’s works Persona and shadow: puberty and Persona and shadow: Virago from 1984. How would you describe these works to someone who hasn’t seen them before? Compare and contrast Persona and shadow: puberty and Persona and shadow: Virago paying attention to the emotions and attitudes expressed through body language.
- Julie Rrap often uses her own body in performances and photographic works. In her Persona and shadow series, Rrap acts out images of female nudes from art history. Compare and contrast Rrap’s Persona and shadow: puberty with Edvard Munch’s painting Puberty (National Museum of Norway). Discuss the roles of artist and model in relation to Rrap’s and Munch’s works. What do you think Rrap hoped to achieve by appropriating Munch’s painting and placing herself as the figure?
- Tracey Moffatt is a photographer and filmmaker whose work draws upon the visual vocabulary of television and movies that she watched growing up. Moffatt’s work Something more #4 1989 is a scene from her staged photo drama Something more, comprising 6 colour photographs and 3 black and white photographs. Based on what you can see in Something more #4, what do you imagine the storyline for this fictional narrative might be? Why do you think the artist decided to depict certain moments in black and white?
- Tracey Moffatt uses her camera to create her own version of reality: ‘I can use fiction to comment on my own personal history or serious issues of social history or reflect on what is going on in the current political landscape.’ Create your own staged photographic series inspired by the work of Julie Rrap and Tracey Moffatt. You might insert yourself into a historical image or invent a fictional narrative that comments on a social issue.
 Tracey Moffatt interview with Natalie King, ‘I can see a shadow thinking’, Art Monthly Australasia, May 2017, issue 298, p.36
Colour, Light and Abstraction
- Clarice Beckett was passionate about painting outdoors. She had no dedicated studio, instead wheeling her easel, brushes and canvases in a small cart around the shoreline or cliffs near her home in Beaumaris, a bayside suburb of Melbourne. What do you see in Beckett’s 1933 painting Sandringham Beach? How would you describe Beckett’s use of paint? What artistic choices has Beckett made to add energy and interest to this everyday scene?
- Dynamism can mean energy, activity or force. What do you think makes Grace Crowley’s 1947 Abstract painting dynamic? What sort of energy or spirit does this work convey? Between 1947 and 1953 Crowley made a series of purely abstract paintings, among the first in Australia. See how Crowley’s approach to painting evolved across the decades by comparing the works of art in the introduction to Grace Crowley: Being modern.
- Janet Dawson was one of only three women among the 40 artists included in influential 1968 exhibition of Australian Abstraction, The field, at the National Gallery of Victoria. In this short video Janet Dawson reflects on how the exhibition ‘established, to the general public, that…colour and shapes that weren’t actually flowers and pumpkins and people’s faces could actually be art.’ How would you describe the shapes and colours that Janet Dawson has used in her painting Heeney’s rose 1968? What do you think is innovative or impactful about this work of art?
- Cut a variety of abstract shapes out of coloured papers and translucent or transparent papers, such as cellophane, tracing paper or baking paper. On a larger sheet of paper or board, experiment with different ways of arranging and overlapping your shapes and colours. Instead of gluing the pieces down, take photographs of different combinations as you go. Look over your photos and compare the effects created. Which arrangements of shape and colour convey the strongest a sense of movement, energy or dynamism? Select your favourite composition to use as a starting point for a painting inspired by Crowley – you might like to use a translucent paint like watercolour to play with overlapping.
Visual Arts Years 7 & 8
Experiment with visual arts conventions and techniques, including exploration of techniques used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, to represent a theme, concept or idea in their artwork (ACAVAM118)
Develop ways to enhance their intentions as artists through exploration of how artists use materials, techniques, technologies and processes (ACAVAM119)
Practise techniques and processes to enhance representation of ideas in their art-making (ACAVAM121)
Present artwork demonstrating consideration of how the artwork is displayed to enhance the artist’s intention to an audience (ACAVAM122)
Analyse how artists use visual conventions in artworks (ACAVAR123)
Identify and connect specific features and purposes of visual artworks from contemporary and past times to explore viewpoints and enrich their art-making, starting with Australian artworks including those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (ACAVAR124).
Visual Arts Years 9 & 10
Conceptualise and develop representations of themes, concepts or subject matter to experiment with their developing personal style, reflecting on the styles of artists, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists (ACAVAM125)
Plan and design artworks that represent artistic intention (ACAVAM128)
Present ideas for displaying artworks and evaluate displays of artworks (ACAVAM129)
Evaluate how representations communicate artistic intentions in artworks they make and view to inform their future art making (ACAVAR130)
Analyse a range of visual artworks from contemporary and past times to explore differing viewpoints and enrich their visual art-making, starting with Australian artworks, including those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and consider international artworks (ACAVAR131).
Health and Physical Education Years 7 & 8
Investigate the benefits to individuals and communities of valuing diversity and promoting inclusivity (ACPPS079).
Civics & Citizenship Year 7
How values, including freedom, respect, inclusion, civility, responsibility, compassion, equality and a ‘fair go’, can promote cohesion within Australian society (ACHCK052).
English Year 10
Evaluate the social, moral and ethical positions represented in texts (ACELT1812).
Mathematics Year 9
Identify everyday questions and issues involving at least one numerical and at least one categorical variable, and collect data directly and from secondary sources (ACMSP228).
Mathematics Year 10
Evaluate statistical reports in the media and other places by linking claims to displays, statistics and representative data (ACMSP253).
Year 11 & 12 Visual Arts
Know My Name supports learning in senior secondary visual arts across State and Territory curricula as it relates to theoretical and conceptual frameworks. It illustrates the need for a critical discourse about the representation of women in the arts by considering historical, social, cultural, and contemporary contexts