What's Work Worth?

Flour: Wangurnu seeds, donor Dianna Newham.  Grinding stone, donor Dianna Newham. Flour bag, donor Patsy Hayes. Scoop, donor Patsy Hayes. Sifter, donor Bill Cavenagh. Bread tin, donor Patsy Hayes. Nail sack oven cloths, donor Betty Thompson

How do museums represent women and work?  What do their collections tell us about the work that women (and by implication, men) do? How do museums represent all the recent changes in women’s work which have taken place? Do some objects symbolise women’s work more than others?  Are there “women’s” objects?  If yes, do objects have a gender, or do they help construct gender? Or is gender simply a figment of our socially constructed imaginations?  What is women’s work? How should museums represent it?

 Our aim has been to use feminist theory to rethink traditional museum practices and to use radical curatorial practices to rethink feminism.  

What’s Work Worth? explores the gendered nature of work in three displays. The first display, located in the narrow confines of the gaol’s corridor compresses 20,000 plus years of local and international work history into a single shelf of objects.

The second display, located in a former prison cell, consists of a carefully selected series of historical films detailing the history of Australian women’s struggle for equal working rights. 

The third display, located in another former prison cell, contains a sound installation. This is an audio collage of extracts from longer oral history interviews which we and a small group of volunteers recorded, and later worked on, with Alice Springs residents who spoke about the way work and gender have structured their lives.

Independently and together, the three displays which form What’s Work Worth? invite visitors to ponder two sets of questions about the gendered nature of men and women’s working lives.

The first of these sets of questions revolve around the thorny issue of why the revolutionary changes in women’s work which have occurred since World War II do not appear to have increased women’s worth. 

The second invites visitors to consider the possibility that the objects adults use in their work-a-day-worlds might gender us in the same way that children’s toys can gender them.

The exhibition opened in two stages, the first on International Museum Day 2016.  Listen to Elaine Peckham’s acknowledgement of country, exhibition curator Dianna Newham speak of What’s Work Worth? and Bev Ellis as she officially opens the exhibition.The second stage of the exhibition was opened in September 2017. 

Toys: Child’s iron and sewing machine, donor: Laurel Butcher. Cross-stitch sampler, donor: Una and Doug Boerner. Embroidered supper cloth, donor: Telka Williams

To read more about the philosophy behind the exhibition follow this link to an article which appeared in  Word of Mouth magazine in Autumn 2018.

This article about the exhibition appeared in Alice Springs News written by Keiran Finnane http://www.alicespringsnews.co…

Detail of twill weave rope weaving.  Maker Anna Satharasinghe