No longer the exception

curatorial text / Lucy Wardle, Laurel Projects

Laurel Projects Works List / design: Catherine Griffiths w/ promo poster, Caitlin Rassie

“It’s 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.” Wendy Richdale of RAMP Gallery.

Present Tense presents over 100 posters submitted by women* across Aotearoa in response to an open call in April regarding the disparities and lack of representation of women* designers. Where is this representation, when 70% of design graduates are female? The posters exhibited speak to issues of hegemony, power inequalities, colonisation and appropriation as influencing industries that succeed without reference to difference and alternative perspectives. This lack of diversity has been centered especially around the Designers Institute of New Zealand and their annual Best Awards.

The Best Awards is an elitist annual showcase of “excellence” in graphic, spatial, product, interactive and motion design. Established in the mid-seventies — and since 1997 — each year the prestigious “Black Pins” are awarded to individuals for their outstanding achievement. Out of the 45 pins awarded between 1997–2018, 42 Black Pins were awarded to men. Only 3 were awarded to women. There is concern regarding recognition of a diverse cross-section of designers within the industry, as well as making the industry an inclusive space for everyone to contribute.

“Why are we not seeing more equal representation amongst the winners, and at the very least the judges? Where are all the women?” Bron Thomson, CEO, Springload.

A protest occurred in response to gather attention in changing the design landscape in which this affirmative project took action. With failure in addressing the significant gender imbalance over two decades, co-founder of Designers Speak (Up), designer, typographer and artist, Catherine Griffiths states the objective of the posters displayed is to “encourage meaningful change not only to gender imbalance throughout the Institute’s processes, but to have those processes embrace cultural and other diversities too”.

Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa is an exhibition in protest, a reiteration acting through a platform in which these designers find strength. 12 silk-screen posters, whose collective voices address social, cultural, or political issues selective of the designer. These posters have been designed by ĀKAU 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 — and to date, over 90 contributions to the Poster Call from members of the Directory (not on? join up!).

Exhibiting within a gallery context, the posters speak to issues of motherhood, racism, the climate crisis, the Christchurch terror attack and more. Personal to political, the posters accompanied with detailed texts, are presented in various media from silk-screen printed, projection to digital.

The nature of relationships intercepting in the space opens a previously unheard dialogue — an exercise in what happens when you strip away the notion of using women as a diversifier or a point of interest, enabling dialogue to speak (up!) for itself.

By removing the current bias of male producers, the women designers no longer occupy the space of being the exception, rather they become, simply, designers.

Power of the poster!

Lucy Wardle / co-founder Laurel Projects
August 2019

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essay / Disappointing the past and failing the future / Emma Ng, October 2019

curatorial text / From Protest to Present / Sophie Davis, October 2019

essay / Towards A Wider Understanding of Design / Michelle Wang, October 2019

essay / Te Marama / The Moon / Elle Loui August, September 2019

interview / Painting the town red / Jeremy Hansen, September 2019

essay / Mauri — an opportunity to connect / Desna Whaanga-Schollum, August 2019

artist text / On being present… / Mere Taylor-Tuiloma, August 2019

essay / Snakes, Ladders and Tables / Chloe Geoghegan, July 2019

curatorial text / No longer the exception / Lucy Wardle, August 2019

essay / Broken record / Lana Lopesi, April 2019

curatorial text / This present future / Wendy Richdale, April 2019

radio / Erin Broughton & Catherine Griffiths / Yujin Shin, August 2019

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return to Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa