What's Work Worth?

Flour: Wan­gur­nu seeds, donor Dian­na Newham. Grind­ing stone, donor Dian­na Newham. Flour bag, donor Pat­sy Hayes. Scoop, donor Pat­sy Hayes. Sifter, donor Bill Cave­nagh. Bread tin, donor Pat­sy Hayes. Nail sack oven cloths, donor Bet­ty Thompson

How do muse­ums rep­re­sent women and work? What do their col­lec­tions tell us about the work that women (and by impli­ca­tion, men) do? How do muse­ums rep­re­sent all the recent changes in women’s work which have tak­en place? Do some objects sym­bol­ise women’s work more than oth­ers? Are there women’s” objects? If yes, do objects have a gen­der, or do they help con­struct gen­der? Or is gen­der sim­ply a fig­ment of our social­ly con­struct­ed imag­i­na­tions? What is women’s work? How should muse­ums rep­re­sent it?

Our aim has been to use fem­i­nist the­o­ry to rethink tra­di­tion­al muse­um prac­tices and to use rad­i­cal cura­to­r­i­al prac­tices to rethink feminism. 

What’s Work Worth? explores the gen­dered nature of work in three dis­plays. The first dis­play, locat­ed in the nar­row con­fines of the gaol’s cor­ri­dor com­press­es 20,000 plus years of local and inter­na­tion­al work his­to­ry into a sin­gle shelf of objects. 

The sec­ond dis­play, locat­ed in a for­mer prison cell, con­sists of a care­ful­ly select­ed series of his­tor­i­cal films detail­ing the his­to­ry of Aus­tralian women’s strug­gle for equal work­ing rights. 

The third dis­play, locat­ed in anoth­er for­mer prison cell, con­tains a sound instal­la­tion. This is an audio col­lage of extracts from longer oral his­to­ry inter­views which we and a small group of vol­un­teers record­ed, and lat­er worked on, with Alice Springs res­i­dents who spoke about the way work and gen­der have struc­tured their lives.

Inde­pen­dent­ly and togeth­er, the three dis­plays which form What’s Work Worth? invite vis­i­tors to pon­der two sets of ques­tions about the gen­dered nature of men and women’s work­ing lives. 

The first of these sets of ques­tions revolve around the thorny issue of why the rev­o­lu­tion­ary changes in women’s work which have occurred since World War II do not appear to have increased women’s worth. 

The sec­ond invites vis­i­tors to con­sid­er the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the objects adults use in their work-a-day-worlds might gen­der us in the same way that children’s toys can gen­der them.

The exhi­bi­tion opened in two stages, the first on Inter­na­tion­al Muse­um Day 2016. Lis­ten to Elaine Peck­ham’s acknowl­edge­ment of coun­try, exhi­bi­tion cura­tor Dian­na Newham speak of What’s Work Worth? and Bev Ellis as she offi­cial­ly opens the exhibition.The sec­ond stage of the exhi­bi­tion was opened in Sep­tem­ber 2017

Toys: Child’s iron and sewing machine, donor: Lau­rel Butch­er. Cross-stitch sam­pler, donor: Una and Doug Boern­er. Embroi­dered sup­per cloth, donor: Tel­ka Williams

To read more about the phi­los­o­phy behind the exhi­bi­tion fol­low this link to an arti­cle which appeared in Word of Mouth mag­a­zine in Autumn 2018.

This arti­cle about the exhi­bi­tion appeared in Alice Springs News writ­ten by Keiran Finnane http://​www​.alice​springsnews​.co…

Detail of twill weave rope weav­ing. Mak­er Anna Satharasinghe