Sight Lines: Women and Art in Aotearoa

Kirsty Baker

Author: Kirsty Baker
Format: Hardback
Pages: 444
Published: 11 July 2024
Specs: 23.5cm x 18.0cm
ISBN: 9781869409982

Extraordinary women, groundbreaking art.

From ancient whatu kākahu to contemporary installation art, Frances Hodgkins to Merata Mita, Fiona Clark to Mataaho Collective, Sight Lines tells the story of art made by women in Aotearoa.

Gathered here are painters, photographers, performers, sculptors, weavers, textile artists, poets and activists. They have worked individually, collaboratively and in collectives. They have defied restrictive definitions of what art should be and what it can do. Their stories and their work enable us to ask new questions of art history in Aotearoa. How have tangata whenua and tangata tiriti artists negotiated their relationships to each other, and to this place? How have women used their art-making to explore their relationships to land and water, family and community, politics and the nation?

With more than 150 striking images and essays by Chloe Cull, Ngarino Ellis, Ioana Gordon-Smith, Rangimarie Sophie Jolley, Lana Lopesi, Hanahiva Rose, Huhana Smith and Megan Tamati-Quennell alongside the author, Sight Lines is a bold new account of art-making in Aotearoa through 35 extraordinary women artists.



Dr Kirsty Baker is an art historian, curator and writer based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara where she currently works as a curator at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi. She completed her PhD in art history at Victoria University of Wellington—Te Herenga Waka, where her thesis ‘Constituting the “Woman Artist”: A Feminist Genealogy of Aotearoa New Zealand’s Art History 1928–1989’ was awarded a place on the prestigious Doctoral Dean’s List for 2020. Alongside this academic research, Baker’s writing on contemporary women artists in Aotearoa has appeared in a wide range of publications, including Art New Zealand, The Pantograph Punch, Artist Profile, Femisphere and Art and Australia. She has also written essays on women artists and feminist art histories for a range of publications including Flora: Celebrating Our Botanical World (Te Papa Press, 2023), The Dialogics of Contemporary Art: Painting Politics (Kerber Verlag, 2019), Embodied Knowledge / Can Tame Anything (The Dowse Art Museum, 2019), Jacqueline Fahey’s Suburbanites (New Zealand Portrait Gallery, 2019) and All Lines Converge: Some Lines Through the Archive (Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, 2017).



‘Kirsty Baker is undoubtedly a new and important voice in New Zealand art history, and Sight Lines is a major contribution to the discipline. Acknowledging her predecessors but refusing to impose a new master narrative, she has gathered a miscellany of practices and drawn on the expert wisdom of colleagues to provide insights into women artists – working individually and collectively – through the history of art in Aotearoa. Tuned to the politics of representation she has been even-handed in her focus, paying attention to Māori, Pākehā and Pasifika artists; avoiding the hierarchies of genre to consider a range of media (from functional textiles to ephemeral installations); attending to questions of class and privilege; and including queer and non-binary subjects in her compendium. Her decision to invite relevant writers to add their voices to her eloquent accounts, especially in areas where Baker lacks cultural competence, is a welcome sign of the new decolonising art history this country so dearly needs. This beautiful, well-illustrated book will open eyes to the richness and diversity of women’s art practice as it has evolved in this place.’
Christina Barton, DLitt, MNZM, art historian, curator, writer and editor

‘An exceptional book. Thoughtfully conceived, well written, timely and significant. It manages to be both scholarly – informed by the state of art writing in the present – and accessible to a general readership interested in art, women and feminism in Aotearoa. It is a worthy successor to Elizabeth Eastmond and Merimeri Penfold’s landmark book Women and the Arts in New Zealand published nearly 40 years ago, and just as groundbreaking. Baker and her co-writers get the tone, pitch and readability of their text just right. The book exemplifies the kind of informed and empathetic writing across cultures that art writing should be aiming for these days.’
— Peter Brunt, Victoria University of Wellington—Te Herenga Waka

Sight Lines is an appealing history of our art, with its narratives of gender, culture and ethnicity. These essays have uncovered layers of memories of the many women artists I have known since I came to Auckland as a student at Elam School of Art in 1962. Māori and others will particularly find the indigenous stories intriguing through the perceptive writing, concepts and image. This book is an educational taonga for students and communities.’
— Elizabeth Ellis, CNZM, Ngāti Porou, Ngāpuhi

‘Written from a self-described “unruly perspective”, here Kirsty Baker navigates another art history for Aotearoa through in-depth readings of a selection of women’s artistic practices. The publication also includes insightful essays from several key curators, writers and researchers, bringing together multiple, diverse narratives that provide relevant context and knowledge. It is a rare opportunity to read such detailed and engaging art historical texts, each supported by images of artworks previously difficult to access. Sight Lines is an important book for Aotearoa and an invitation to discover new ways of thinking about artists, artworks and our past.’
— Melanie Oliver, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū

Sight Lines is a vital contribution to how we understand the visual history of Aotearoa. As Kirsty Baker acknowledges, a project like this can never be exhaustive. It is, however, hugely expansive: offering new ways of seeing the iconic and familiar; throwing the spotlight on overlooked makers of extraordinary things; and transforming prevailing narratives that, as Baker shows time and again, have often failed to give great artists the recognition they deserve. It is a beautiful book, shaped by the same forces as the art contained within it – life, intelligence, political urgency and generosity.’
— Anthony Byrt, writer and critic

‘Through close readings of individual artworks as well as a sophisticated understanding of broader social, cultural and artistic shifts, Kirsty Baker gives a compelling account of women and art in New Zealand. The book is at once local and particular, rooted in the experiences of tangata whenua and colonists on those islands. An ambitious and richly referenced book that contributes to the important global movement of rewriting and expanding art’s histories.’
— Helena Reckitt, University of London