The Art of Gender Politics

Please note: this is archived course information from 2023 for ARTHIST 233.


Kia ora, malo e lelei, talofa lava, ni sa bula, kia orana, fakaalofa lahi atu, welcome.


This course focuses on the ways that gender and ethnicity inform art and visual culture. Indigenous and diaspora artists use their work to discuss important issues of culture and history. Many consider the ways in which colonialism has affected their people and use their work to make strong statements of survival and celebration.

We look at types of art – textiles, body adornment, photography and film – through the eyes of different cultural groups. These include Maori, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders, Pacific peoples, Native American and Canadian, Central American as well as African-American. Each has their own particular perspective on their history and the ways in which their art has kept alive traditions and stories.

The types of art which we examine is often not included in mainstream Art History courses except on the margins. Pottery and Quilting, for instance, is not often considered for anything more than its aesthetic (its beauty) yet the stories which revolve around the making of each piece talk about the cultural beliefs of the maker and the ways in which innovation is an essential part of making art. The social, political and cultural societies in which and for whom they are produced will also be discussed, as well as links between these art forms.

The course begins with a celebration of important female ancestors whose roles within indigenous communities would be later challenged with the introduction of gender heirachies by European colonisers from the late eighteenth century. The course seeks to rehabilitate the centrality of these women within their peoples.

Changing notions of feminism and gender are exposed through lectures focused on specific media: weaving and textiles, quilting, body adornment, pottery, photography and film. The course will also discuss artists in diaspora communities, such as Pacific women jewellers in Aotearoa and African-American quiltmakers. Their experiences provide an interesting platform in which to look at legacies of colonialism and ways in which ties with their homelands are maintained. The syllabus will feature guest lectures by practicing indigenous women artists.

Availability 2023

Not taught in 2023


Coordinator(s) Associate Professor Ngarino Ellis


Coursework + exam


ARTHIST 233: 15 points


15 points at Stage I in Art History and 30 points passed, or 30 points in Transnational Cultures and Creative Practice


ARTHIST 319, 333