Te Papa is saddened to hear about the death of London-based New Zealand artist Alexis Hunter on 24 February 2014.
Three years after completing her studies at the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland in 1969, Hunter relocated to England and established herself in London. She was an active participant in the women’s art movement and her art works in a range of media express a powerfully feminist viewpoint.
Hunter continued to exhibit in New Zealand and in 1989 a survey exhibition of her work titled Fears / Dreams / Desires was held at the Auckland City Art Gallery. The exhibition included her photographic series ‘Approach to Fear’ 1976-77, and a selection of painting and prints made between 1981-89. It was accompanied by a catalogue with essays by Alexa M. Johnston and Elizabeth Eastmond.
One of Hunter’s most recognised series of work is ‘The Object Series’ from 1974-75, of which there are several examples in Te Papa’s collection. Challenging the dynamic of male artist and female subject, Hunter’s series instead turned the photographer’s gaze onto the male body.
Hunter’s photographic work, in particular, has been the subject of recent critical attention. Her work featured in the major international exhibition of feminist art, WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, organised by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (LACMA) in 2007. The exhibition subsequently travelled to a number of other venues including PS1, New York, and the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Another recent project was the solo exhibition Alexis Hunter: Radical Feminism in the 1970s for the Norwich Gallery at the Norwich School of Art and Design. The publication for the exhibition includes a reprint of an essay on Hunter’s work by leading art curator Lucy R. Lippard. According to Lippard:
Alexis Hunter makes icons of fearlessness for women, metaphors for feminism, for touch, defiance, freely expressed emotion, political consciousness of others. (1981)
From her earlier focus on gender politics through to her later highly charged expressionist paintings, Alexis Hunter tackled her subject matter with startling directness. In a 2007 interview, Art News editor Virginia Were asked Hunter if there was still a need for feminism and feminist art. Hunter’s response was characteristic: ‘While there’s inequality and patriarchy in the world there’s a need for women-centred theory and philosophy and direct action.’
We acknowledge the contribution that Alexis Hunter made to contemporary art in New Zealand. She will be missed for her powerful work that exposed and explored gender politics, and for her staunch support of women artists. Our thoughts go out to her family and friends.
Curator of Contemporary Art