Research on gender and the arts

Researcher: Prof Kay Lawrence

Kay Lawrence, No work for a white manProf Kay Lawrence’s recent research is focused in two areas:

1. A project with the National Library of Australia that involves interviewing key women involved in the creation of the Parliament House Embroidery for new Parliament House, Canberra in 1988. Almost 500 women across Australia were involved in this major public art work, stitching the 16-metre embroidery designed by Lawrence to symbolically represent the 'concept of the Australian land and its impact upon the human values and lives of its inhabitants'. Twenty years after the creation of the work, the interviews are designed to uncover the impact of the embroidery project itself on the lives of the women who gave up 5 years of their time as volunteers, undertaking complex management roles within the project as well as using their superb skills to embroider one of the most significant artworks in Parliament House.

2. Kay Lawrence has also curated an exhibition This Everything Water, which will open on 5 March in the South Australian School of Art Gallery, Fenn Place, City West as part of the 2008 Adelaide Festival of Arts. The exhibition, the result of many years of research into the early pearling industry in Broome, Western Australia, includes the work of Kay Lawrence as well as Aboriginal pearl shell ornaments borrowed from the collection of the South Australian Museum and contemporary pearl shells engraved by Bardi and Djawi law man Aubrey Tigan and Nyigina law man Butcher Joe Nangan.

Kay Lawrence uses textile objects and the skills associated with women's domestic labour – buttons, blankets and sewing – to create artworks that make reference to the exploitation of Indigenous and Asian labour in the early days of the pearling industry in Broome. The Western Australian pearl shell industry supplied 80% of the pearl shell used in the manufacture of buttons in the textile industry in Great Britain in the first half of the twentieth century. Lawrence’s work – blankets stitched with buttons to create images of skulls, a pair of blanket under-trousers covered with pearl buttons, a crisp, white, starched suit like those that the pearling masters wore – allude in a poetic way to the inequalities and dangers of an industry that supplied the raw material for the buttons used on the clothes of ordinary people.

Areas of study and research

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