Skip to main content

Jane Zusters & Her 'Where Did You Go To My Lovelies'

Mary Dore and Nancy Kennedy's feature about the birth of the American women's movement, She's Beautiful When She's Angry, screened at the New Zealand International Film Festival this year. Afterwards, I got a group email from someone who wrote–
The younger ones wanted to know if there is a similar account of the NZ second wave of feminism.... can anyone give us a reference?
Since then, I've become aware of Australian women's filmmaking in the 1970s and 1980s and I've kept my eye out for films from and about the women's movement in New Zealand in those years. But the woman-made moving image record of New Zealand activities of those times, from those times, seems to be tiny.

I’ve searched in the Nga Taonga Sound & Vision collections and I now know, for instance, that there were at least three films made in 1975: Meanwhile with a crew that included Annie Collins, Deidre McCartin’s Some of My Best Friends Are Women; and You Wanna Talk Feminism? from the Auckland Community Women's Video collection awaiting cataloguing at the New Zealand Film Archive. In 1976, Stephanie (Robinson) Beth’s I Want to be Joan, filmed at that year’s United Women’s Convention. A few others came later. I hope to find more.

In the almost-absence of ‘our’ films, images in books become especially treasured resources. So I was thrilled that Christchurch artist Jane Zusters has just released a limited edition book called Where Did You Go To My Lovelies, of photographs and interviews of women, men and children she knew way back then in Christchurch, where there were radical communities and activities, some of them feminist. In a city where many lovely buildings are now forever gone, following the major earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and their aftermath.

Where Did You Go To My Lovelies includes an essay by Andrew Paul Wood that places the work in its art historical and social context, but I was curious about some other aspects of the work. Where Did you Go To My Lovelies features three artists from New Zealand's women's art movement,  which began in Christchurch– Allie Eagle, Tiffany Thornley and Jane Zusters; and it documents their activism as artists among other activists.

pro abortion protest (1978)

You’ve always been a painter as well as a photographer, a ceramicist. Now film is sometimes part of your shows and some of your images are digitally altered. And Where Did You Go To My Lovelies is your fourth book. Why do you work in so many mediums and what inspired you to produce books? What do they do for your work that other mediums can’t?

I work in so many mediums because I can. Like left brain as opposed to right brain, book production meets different creative needs. I have embraced the digital world and the democracy of that. Anyone can make a book now. The art ends up mostly existing in reproductions anyway.

I like books because anyone can buy one unlike one-off art works. In 1999 when I did the photographs for Sue Fitchett’s charts and soundings the scans and photoshopping cost Sue thousands of dollars. These days I photoshop and access my photo archive with my own professional scanner from the comfort of my living room.

My first book singing in the lifeboat was hard work as I was encouraged by Grant Banbury and Quentin Wilson to do an overview of my art life with commissioned essays. The subsequent ones have just made themselves. It is like composing music together when I rock up to my designer Mike Coker with all my text and images in folders. It happens very fast as we are on the same wavelength. Luckily for me I pay Mike with art, as designers as good as Mike cost an arm and a leg. Mike is an artist who walks the talk and supports me and my causes.

abortion demonstration Christchurch (1978) 
When I look at the front and then the back cover, I wonder if the ‘lovelies' and the 'where did you go to' are equally about people and buildings and restoration and the natural environment. 

Yes those photographs are pivotal. I was there in 1978 and then in 2010 I photographed the water protest when the cairn of stones was erected.

water protest cairn of river stones, protesting loss of Environment Canterbury democracy 2010 Cathedral Square (2015)

The protest was organised by Sam Mahon who is another water activist artist and author of The Water Thieves. I was at a water meeting chaired by Peter Beck at the Cathedral two days before the February 22nd 2011 Earthquake. In 2012 with the support of some Anglicans behind the scenes, I made a poster urging people to restore the Christchurch Cathedral.

Artists For Save Our Water and Mackenzie Guardians are both my websites. With Sally Hope I formed Artists For Save Our Water and used art to engage people to help save the Mackenzie Country, stop the Waianiwaniwa Valley being flooded for a reservoir for Central Plains Water and the level of Lake Sumner being raised for Hurunui River irrigation. Sally Hope and I had organised an exhibition about the Hurunui River in my studio when the February 2011 struck and destroyed the building.

Manchester Street one minute after earthquake 22 February 2011 at home Estuary Road
The National Government abolished our water democracy in Canterbury to make water available for irrigation regardless of the environmental cost as we were being too successful opposing the water taking. So that is the context to the river cairn photograph.

Have environmental concerns become more urgent for you over time? And the relationships between people and the built and ruined environment?

These days I am interested in the local/personal/political aspects. When I returned to live in Christchurch in 2004 I found the water only went up to my knees in the Waipara River swimming hole I almost drowned in when I was seven. I started asking questions and looking at our rivers. These days I make environmental images that reflect multiple realities. I am drawn to that uneasy edge where human beings co-opt or entangle with eco-systems.

from Where The Home Is
In my project Where the Home Is: The Christchurch Earthquakes 2010-2012 (2012) I put the devastation into the living rooms of my friends and family as a way of expressing the new reality in Christchurch. Everyone was affected by the earthquakes whether their home was wrecked or not. I followed my earthquake photographs back to the intact 70’s Cathedral Square.

Long ago, in an interview for A Women’s Picture Book (1988), you said 'I like to find some balance in my work between the roses and the black spots' and you seem to have done this again here. What were your intentions for this book?

Tiffany Thornley in Chippenham Community Protest (1976)
The demonstration photographs were the key. I had the brainwave to start with the picture of the cathedral and then follow some of the demonstrators into their personal lives. It all happened very quickly as I already had the raw material. I thought 'I will make another book' when Liz Eastmond invited me to exhibit at Tivoli on Waiheke Island, which is a bookshop/gallery. I included images that resonate for me now.

Now that the Cathedral has no spire, the intact Cathedral with its restoration appeal sign is the lightbulb image. The cityscape around the protestors has vanished. My editorial eureka moment was to include my friends lives in the book’s structure. I wanted to include a slice of my youthful art community and life. I had to choose friends I had good photographs of.

Someone observed the work is back to front. The structure of the book has a Maori perspective. I stand in the present starting with Christchurch’s ruined reality and then look at the past. Past comes before present in the European world view. I consciously reverse this order.

The book is the tip of the iceberg.

I unpacked my 70’s photographs when I did an MFA at Whitecliffe College of Art and Design in 2001 to 2002. I re-photographed and interviewed twenty-five people I had photographed in my youth. It took me a while to work out that I had to reference the past in the new photograph. I still have the gun but I am wearing a Marilyn Sainty little black dress.

Jane (2002) and Jane (1975) 
My first question would be, 'How do you want to be seen now?' Morrie said, 'I’d like to be photographed with that pou – that pou out there was carved by a cousin of mine – Teddy Nepia – he gave me that – it was carved out of an old tree that fell down at this property called The Palace at Awarua'.

Morrie (2002) and Morrie (1977)
Morrie was the last image in a sequence of photographs of graves in An Odyssey Beyond which was bought by the National Gallery (now Te Papa Tongarewa/Museum of New Zealand) in 1978.

In the original print a shadow obscures his face. With his palm showing the life line, he was man confronting death. In the 70’s Morrie's face was masked by shadow. However Morrie was making a Maori gesture in that Westport cemetery 40 years ago. The upraised hand is a a Ringatu salute and conveys a message of peace, love and passive resistance. Te Kooti had instructed his followers to stretch forth their hands to glorify God rather than kneeling to pray. A drawing exists of his ancestor, the pacifist leader of Parihaka, Te Whiti o Rongomai, making an identical gesture.

When you look at old proof sheets now, can you see that some things that mattered then are much less important now and some casual shots then have far greater significance than you realised at the time?

Today I find the picnic and life drawing more interesting than the abstractions I exhibited in the 70’s.

These days everyone has a camera on their cell phone and snaps the food they eat and their lives, like Laurence Aberhart feeding the kids fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. He has gone on to be a major New Zealand photographer so this snapshot of the man from so long ago gets the gold star.

Lawrence Aberhart, Kamala and the Hammond boys (1976)
I also included nudity, as in the 70’s I photographed people without their clothes a lot. If you look carefully you can can see Tiffany who is life drawing has no clothes on either. Away from art school Tiffany and I used to be naked while life drawing to make ourselves equal with our model.

life drawing at Jane's place, 49 Effingham Street, North Beach (1977)
I self-censored and I was not sure how Morrie and Tiffany and Paul would feel about their nudity. I was glad they agreed. There is the picture of Rana and Dave in the bath but other than this I did not include pictures of naked children as this is now seen as problematic. Sally Mann explores the issues around this in her autobiography Hold Still. I did not include the photograph of the man with ‘trust me’ tattooed on his forehead and ‘power to the penis’ on his belly.

In the 80’s depicting the body especially the naked female body became a highly contested territory. French feminists such as Irigaray believed women could only talk in ‘riddles’ since ‘the gaze’ belonged to men. In New Zealand Lita Barrie demolished first generation feminist artists such as Carole Shepherd and Claudia Pond Eyley. Someone critiqued a pastel I had made of Allie Eagle looking into a mirror and putting on lipstick as an example of ‘narcissistic pre-feminist’ art.

When John Turner requested permission to put pink nude in blue pool in New Zealand Photography from the 1840s to the Present (1993) I was so ashamed of ‘pandering to the voyeuristic gaze’ I did not reply. Ironically in 2015 they put it in Photoforum at 40 and forgot to ask my permission. I did not mind as I am proud of the image today.

In A Women’s Picture Book you say 'My work has always had a strong autobiographical element. I suppose that would be my connection with the feminist art movement – the personal is political'. In this book, you write about yourself as a demonstrator and about those who’ve influenced you as an artist, you mention your niece. But it seems to me that you’ve also purposefully made yourself opaque, a distanced artist. Did you feel unable include more about your own reality? I wondered whether, in seeking ‘balance’ and taking a slightly distanced overview, you may have edited out quite a lot of public and private emotion that were part of those times.

I subscribe to the Diane Arbus’s  'a photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells the less you know'. I have myriad identities. When I asked my mum in 2005 'What’s your nicest memory?' she said, 'Being in love and being loved and I am still in love'. I aspired to that but these days I am in love with life rather than a special person.

So it’s time for another version of Portrait of a Woman Marrying Herself?

portrait of a woman marrying herself (1978)
In the 70’s  my  significant relationships were mostly with men although I was friends with Allie Eagle who was a very out political lesbian.

Allie painting (1976)
I played with gender and wore both frocks and suits. I was queer before the word was used. Being an artist is the thread. I selected images typical of my world reflecting my 70’s art practice which was not a woman-only world. (I was minimally involved in [the women's literary and art journal] Spiral.)

Dave and Rana (1975)
I love all the beautiful print and other dresses worn by women and men. And that’s a beautiful, tender, image of Tiffany, someone I've always known as heterosexual, holding hands with her mate Margaret. Is that image of perhaps there to demonstrate that sisterhood has lots of close and to some extent physical relationships that fall across a spectrum of sexuality?

I included it because it is a beautiful photograph about Tiffany’s life. In the 70’s I was fascinated by gender and thought women should have more of the freedom of men. Sexual orientation can be fluid and shift throughout your life.

Tiffany and Margaret Flaws Punakaiki Festival (1978)
Were you aware of other artists documenting the same things as you at the same time?

Rhondda Bosworth and I were both photographing people with no clothes on but she did not come on the demonstrations. I have contact sheets where we are both naked and photographing each other and others at the same time. Glenn Jowitt, who was in my year at art school, was a documentary photographer but I did not see myself as a documentary photographer in the way he was. I admired Judy Chicago, Diane Arbus and Ralph Eugene Meatyard. I wanted to be an artist and was making myself into an ARTIST. I used to make photo dates with people at a time of day there would be extreme light and shadow.

Allie & Karl (1975)

I made a tarot pack where my mates became the major arcana. I was also making etchings and did life drawing with Tiffany. I had to earn money as well which I did by being first a postie and then a Chippenham commune ‘Vital Foods’ baker.

What’s next for you? In your exhibition where this book was launched I saw some intriguing small book-type paintings, a bit like one of the mountain works on your website. Are you continuing to experiment with hybrid forms?

Yes I am making collages with bits of wood, working on photographic montages from a Department of Conservation artists trip to Dusky Sound that I was invited on as a water activist artist and scanning historic queer imagery for a show being organised by Stephen Lovett called rereading the rainbow. In January 2016 I will be on the walk that traces the footsteps of Te Maiharoa, the Waitaha pacifist prophet. In 1878 his village was burned to the ground and in the winter snow he and his people were driven out of the Mackenzie Country. My friend Ramonda Te Maiharoa wants my help to make a book about this.

Website (includes ordering info)

Tiff and Paul the other day (2015)


Popular posts from this blog

Pause. Reflect. Cherish.

Chantal Akerman's Death
I tried to write about why I felt so deeply sad about Chantal Akerman's death, then read a post from poet Ana Božičević, who got it just right for me–
No one knows for sure why a woman takes her life but that Chantal A might have done so in part because her No Home Movie – about her mother Natalia an Auschwitz survivor, which was grueling to make – was booed...really breaks my heart this morning. I wonder always, who cares, as in provides care, for the women artists who go to deep dark uncommercial places? Which intimate understands the skill, of craft and emotion, necessary for the work that they do? I wrote in some napkin or tweet once 'they only love the Sylvias after they are dead'. Give care to the woman artist in your life even and especially when she does the hard depth work that challenges the mind and body, yours and hers. And if you are that woman, thank you today & every day. Thank you, Ana. And many thanks for letting me reprint …

NZ Update #12: Everything's Gonna Be All Right?

Look at these two! Our Prime Minister and our distinguished filmmaker and global advocate for women filmmakers meet, at last week's SPADA (Screen Production and Development Association) conference. Look at their pleasure in each other. Their body language. Their close attention.

For me, this meeting is a significant turning point in the movement to gender equity in the allocation of public money for screen storytelling. The first one was at 2015's Big Screen Symposium, when Chelsea Cohen – with support from other Māori women – spoke out  about the need to allocate New Zealand Film Commission funding equally to women and men. Our first woman writer/director/producer to do this publicly. Her courage made it safer for others to follow her example.

So: what might this Jacinda-And-Jane meeting mean?

The new government has already announced its commitment to pay equity and I think we can now be confident that gender equity will infuse screen production. I think we can also be confid…

Saving Mr. Disney: A Lesbian Perspective By Carolyn Gage

To stay focused when I'm writing intensively, I go to the movies in the afternoons. It's a kind of meditation that includes the walk down the hill to the cinema and back up again afterwards. And a few weeks ago, I saw three women-directed movies in three days: Rama Burshtein's Fill The Void, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette's Inch'Allah and Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said. Maybe things have changed, I thought to myself, ever optimistic. But I also noticed that men wrote and directed Catching Fire, from a novel by a woman, about a young woman and produced by a woman. And then I read Vocativ's analysis of 2013's 50 top-grossing US releases. This shows that almost half were Bechdel Test-passing films and that they did better at the US box office than those that weren't. BUT except for Frozen, which Jennifer Lee co-directed (and wrote) men directed all 50. And then at the weekend, all three of the new releases reviewed in our local paper (with enthusiasm) told s…