Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa / Britomart Works on Paper
Poster call and exhibition hīkoi gathers and champions Aotearoa New Zealand women* designers
Silk-screen posters, RAMP Gallery, May 2019 / Photo: Jinki Cambronero
Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa
Britomart Works on Paper, Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland
18 September – 16 October, 2019
Tuesday 24 September 2019, 18h00
Gather at corner of Customs St East + Gore St for kaikōrero, then to The Brit
(if driving rain, straight to The Brit, 122 Quay Street, Britomart)
A weekly rotation of 94 large-scale posters over four weeks, commencing Wednesday 18 September, 2019.
Wendy Richdale of RAMP Gallery says, “ Present Tense: Wāhine Toi Aotearoa is more than an exhibition of posters. What, on the surface seems a simple idea, is in fact layered with meaning and potential. It is the opening of a space-in-time to look at women in design in Aotearoa (in all their diversity). It is a purposeful and mindful looking — and it is a call. A call to action for women in design to step forward to be seen (and heard), and a call to the rest of us, to see. Once we see, we cannot unsee.”
Since April this year, over 100 posters have been submitted to an open Poster Call by Designers Speak (Up) inviting women-identifying and non-binary designers, artists, students and educators to employ the poster medium to investigate any social, cultural, or political issue of choice. The posters, each with a text, are presented in various media from silk-screen printed (the wall exhibition), to gallery projection, to published online. This affirmative project comes out of a poster protest mid-2018, by the project’s director and founder of Designers Speak (Up), designer, typographer and artist Catherine Griffiths, at the shocking gender imbalance consistently put forward by the governing body of the design industry, the Designers Institute of New Zealand.
“For the past two decades, the Designers Institute of New Zealand (DINZ) has awarded its top accolade, the Black Pin, 43 times. 40 have been won by men, and three by women. In July 2018, DINZ announced its jury for the awards: nine convenors of juries to judge the nine main categories and various sub-categories, eight men, one woman. Of the jurors and convenors combined: 46 men, fifteen women. The jury for the Value of Design Award was made up of men only.”
The three protest posters used information from the institute’s Best Design Awards website, including their brand typeface Untitled Sans and the spot colour purple. Annotated with details of the typeface used, the posters followed in the vein of Griffiths’ ongoing type/word-play posters (see ‘The Brexit Series’).
In the wake of the poster protest the Designers Speak (Up) blog platform was set up to provide a channel for both written and design thought. With the support of Auckland Feminist Action who put their hand out, the design collective held a protest, Action40/3, outside the 2018 Best Design Awards event to reiterate the need for change. The day following the awards, which coincided with the Suffrage 125 commemorations, Designers Speak (Up) launched the Directory of Women* Designers — a contemporary, historic and perpetual index — prompted by Imogen Taylor, who had expressed her frustrations in sourcing women designers for Femisphere, a feminist zine.
Fast forward to Summer 2019: director Wendy Richdale extended an invitation to Griffiths offering RAMP Gallery for the month of May. Griffiths recognised the moment, and Designers Speak (Up) set out to engage directly with designers through the venue of poster design via the #ff3333 (hexidecimal red colour) Poster Call.
The resulting project Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa launched at RAMP Gallery, Kirkiriroa/Hamilton in May. The exhibition features 12 silk-screened posters — designed by KAU Studio, Alessandra Banal, Anna Wilkinson, Elisapeta Hinemoa Heta, Ella Sutherland, Fiona Jack, Katie Kerr, Kyra Ta-Waka Clarke, Nell May, Pipi Press, Sarah Maxey and Sonya Lacey — with over 100 contributions to the Poster Call from members of the Directory (not on? join up!). Themes weave from motherhood to racism to climate change to the Christchurch attacks and most recently, Ihumātao.
Critical writing accompanies the project with commissioned essays (in return for a silk-screen poster of choice — the currency of the volunteer-based, un-funded, not-for-profit DSUp, hand-printed by AUT’s print studio masters, Struan Hamilton and Greg Thomas) including Broken record , by Lana Lopesi, Snakes, Ladders and Tables, by Chloe Geoghegan, Mauri — An opportunity to connect, by Desna Whaanga-Schollum, and a new piece by Elle Loui August which will be published alongside the Britomart Works on Paper iteration.
To involve the community and share the project with a wider audience, each gallery or space is given room to organise their own public programme with local designers and artists. A day of conversation and making, ‘kōrero / kai / mahi’, in Kirikiriroa set the tone for the future iterations of the project. Visits by secondary schools and design students have shown to be popular in each of the stops on the hīkoi. Ōtepoti’s Laurel Projects ran a silent auction to raise funds for the published end of the project (with a koha going to Ihumātao), and a zine-making workshop, re-imagining Present Tense .
Griffiths says, “there is no question that Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa is a positive project for all involved — and the result is astounding. To record the current landscape of women in design and give visibility to the unsung diversity of Aotearoa design is necessary and urgent. What does this landscape look like right now? What does it sound like? Who is out there? How to find these voices?”. She maintains that the project is “not a competition”, but a “supportive, safe space for myriad voices, supported and championed in the wholehearted, collective way that is the Designers Speak (Up) kaupapa”.
Since first opening in Kirikiriroa, the project has reached great longitudinal distance on it’s hīkoi around Aotearoa: from Ōtepoti to Kaikohe in the far north at Te Pū O Te Wheke Gallery. Next stop is Tāmaki Makaurau, with a public street showing of 94 of the 114 posters — presented as a rotation of posters over four weeks — thanks to the generosity of the designers, Phantom Billstickers and Britomart’s Jeremy Hansen. Overlapping the Britomart Works on Paper show, will be the fifth iteration at Ilam Campus Gallery in Ōtautahi/Christchurch, before the project heads to Enjoy Contemporary Artspace in Pōneke/Wellington — final stop on the hīkoi. The project is expected to wrap up in 2020 in Tāmaki with a publication launch and exhibition at AUT’s ST Paul St Gallery.
All posters submitted are collected into the Designers Speak (Up) online poster archive, and presented on Instagram (@designersspeakup). The Poster Call became the accumulated the voice of wāhine toi Aotearoa.
*[women/womxn/wāhine/-identifying and non-binary]
Keen to learn more? In the lead up to the Works on Paper event Catherine Griffith spoke with Britomart Group in Painting the town red: a new exhibition of graphic art by women
Photo: Jinki Cambronero