Over the past ten years I have had the privilege of familiarising myself with many of Ann Newmarch’s political screenprints and early paintings held in Flinders University Museum of Art’s (FUMA) collection. At FUMA we have over fifty works by Ann that span from the mid-1960s to the late-2000s and inspire students daily through exhibitions, collection tours and Object-based learning programs.
The true influence of Ann’s practice occurred to me during a discussion with a close friend and artist. I had always considered him to be a political artist and activist but was shocked to discover that he is of the belief that one person cannot be both artist and activist—to him you are simply one or the other. We embarked on a heated and lengthy discussion. The poignant hues of Ann’s hard-hitting political screenprints such as Women hold up half the sky (1978) and Vietnam Madonna (1975) were at the forefront of my mind. As were the 1978 Women’s Art Movement exhibition catalogue my mother bought me from the Acacia Bookshop on Hutt St. Finally, as our debate wore on, I could not get the rallying cry of second-wave feminism out of my head: ‘the personal is political’.
I discovered this phrase while researching Ann’s works as a student, courtesy of Julie Robinson’s seminal publication and Art Gallery of South Australia’s exhibition of the same title. I remember it powerfully speaking to me as a young woman working out what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be for the rest of my life. It dawned on me that this man—his body, his experiences, thoughts and actions—has not been politicised in the way my body and my choices have been. The politicisation of women’s minds and bodies, as well as our power to critique and resist this, was something I first recognised and learned from Ann’s practice, as well as works made by her contemporaries.
Ann was an artist, an activist, an educator, a mother, and a woman—she is not defined by one single title. Alone, none of these labels is sufficient to describe the multiplicity of roles she embodied, each one powerfully expressed through her practice.
Over the course of her fifty-year career she taught generations of aspiring artists and arts workers through her tenure as a lecturer and through her socio-political critiques. She always encouraged her students to embrace their individuality and experiences, and the imperatives of truth-telling and justice-seeking through their creative endeavours.
Ann fought for feminist issues of equality, taking decisive steps forward and was always ahead of the pack. It is through the pioneering activism of Ann and her comrades in the second wave feminist movement that I, and other artists and arts workers, have the opportunity to both create and curate without having to make a choice between our professional and personal lives. Ann fought for generations of women such as us to have the same opportunities as men and the choice to pursue our own good in our own way, free from patriarchal expectations and laws that did much to govern the bodies and decisions of women of previous generations.
Of course, feminism and feminist issues are not the only topics Ann gave voice to through her work. Over the course of her career she brought attention to the effects of capitalism, uranium mining, animal rights, and the discriminatory treatment of First Nations people in colonised Australia. Screenprints such as Three months of uninterrupted work (1977) and the photocollage Washing day (1981) connect the home and studio with motherhood and a woman’s need for a room of her own. The Serpent Struggle (1988) series links her hands with two differing modes of technology, one ancient and one contemporary. In this series, Aboriginal spear tips held in museum collections are processed through a program to break down their colour and form so that they can be translated through the screen-printing process. While the richly symbolic 200 years – Willy Willy (1988), created for Australia’s bicentenary, devastatingly illustrates invasion’s calamitous impact on First Nations communities.
Ann was an instrumental figure within the community of Prospect and the broader City of Adelaide. Through the founding of collectives such as Progressive Art Movement (PAM), the Women’s Art Movement (WAM), the Prospect Mural Group and her teaching at the South Australian School of Art she connected artists with ideas and activism and bridged the gap between artists and councils as exemplified by Prospect’s enviable and thriving arts community. This connection to her community is exhibited through the delicate and beautiful sculptural eggs that were lovingly gifted to friends and neighbours. It is in the same spirit of kinship, care, and reciprocity with which we celebrate the life and work of Ann, a true pioneer of the personal and the political.