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Vale Ann Newmarch, Australian Artist Who Pushed for Women’s Rights, Dies at 76

Vale Ann Newmarch, a prominent artist, activist, and educator who was at the forefront of Australia’s feminist art movement, died at 76 on January 13, according to the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Newmarch was a cofounder of the Progressive Art Movement and a significant figure in Australia’s Women’s Art Movement. Through her ties to these political movements, she made herself a leader in Australia’s art scene.

Born in Adelaide in 1945, Newmarch worked across a variety of mediums, including paint, print, and sculpture. But it was her printmaking practice in particular that helped her most clearly put forward her views on gender inequalities, Aboriginal land rights, and environmental concerns. In the 1970s and ’80s, her work drew on her experiences as a housewife and a mother. Later on, in the ’90s, she confronted the invisibility of middle-aged and elderly women.

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A triptych painting showing a fat

One of Newmarch’s most famous series, “Three Months of Interrupted Work” (1977), dealt with balancing domestic labor, motherhood, and her art practice. She debuted at the 1977 exhibition “The Women’s Show,” which was hosted by the Women’s Art Movement. Her contributions to the growth of a feminist art scene in Australia have belatedly won her international recognition. Newmarch’s 1978 print Women hold up half the sky!, its title a riff on a phrase made famous by former Chinese president Mao Zedong, features a photo of a middle-aged woman carrying a man in her arms with the titular words written in pen underneath. It was the only Australian work selected for the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles’s groundbreaking 2007 exhibition “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution.” In 2021, the piece was included in the show “Know My Name” at the National Gallery of Australia.

Behind the scenes, Newmarch also reshaped the Australian art scene as an educator and activist. In 1969, during the same year that she had her first solo exhibition, at Robert Bolton Gallery in Adelaide, Newmarch joined the staff of the South Australian School of Art. She developed a reputation around this time for being critical of male-dominated, market-driven commercial galleries. As an educator, she mentored female students for more than three decades.

In 1974, with Mandy Martin, Newmarch cofounded the Progressive Art Movement in Australia, which advocated for such changes as Australian independence and a nationwide car industry. Two years later, Newmarch established Adelaide’s Women’s Art Movement to support feminist artists and their art.

She also founded the Prospect Mural Group, bringing public art to the local community where she resided for a total of five decades, in 1978, and was involved in the Community Association of Prospect. In 1989, Newmarch was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her involvement in the arts. In 2019, the city of Prospect, where she was long based, acknowledged her contributions in the naming of their new eponymous community gallery.

“Ann Newmarch was an artist who never shied away from the political, the radical or the personal,” Rhana Devenport, director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, wrote in a Facebook post. “Ann was ground-breaking in more ways than one; she was among the first women to hold a teaching position at the South Australian School of Art and was the first woman to be the subject of a retrospective exhibition at AGSA, held in 1997 and titled ‘The Personal is Political.’”

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