Challenging stereotypes through art

Whanganui artist Deb Halliday is using art to challenge the traditional gender roles society assigns to males and females.

And it was this line of questioning in her art that saw the UCOL Quay School of Arts student named as the 2010 patillo scholarship winner with her sculpture Mother Science.

Deb, who is in her third year of a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, says the work was initially inspired by the geometric qualities of the New Zealand basket fungus which she translated into a three-dimensional construction. She also wanted to challenge the stereotypical gender roles of “Father Science” and “Mother Nature”.

 “The idea of Father Science and Mother Nature intrigued me. It seems strange to me that nature and science have been assigned respective genders based on stereotypic ideas. The work Mother Science is so titled as a result of my thought on this matter and as a means of amending the gender biased assumption that mothers can’t also be scientists.”

Her choice of medium for her entry was also a reflection of her interest in gender politics, being a hand-sewn fabric sculpture. Deb says she has frequently used sewing as a method of construction as it references her affinity with the long tradition of women’s art and craft and her interest in gender issues.

The 26-year-old has always had a personal interest in gender politics and it has been further cemented by becoming a mother herself. She has a three-year-old daughter and is due to give birth to her second child in July.

Deb intends to explore gender issues further in her thesis which she is planning to complete before the arrival of her second child.

Her major is painting and she enjoys the freedom UCOL tutor Lorraine Webb gives her to explore with this medium.

“Painting is very broad in what you can do – it isn’t one-dimensional. Lorraine is supportive of 3-D work along with traditional painting.”

Deb says winning the scholarship was “fantastically exciting”, from a financial point of view as well as gaining validation as an artist.