Art and Organised Labour

1 February – 8 March 1992

Art and Organised Labour is the first major thematic survey of New Zealand working class art to examine complex issues of cultural identity. This exhibition from the Wellington City Art Gallery testifies to their commitment to explore the nature and diversity of contemporary visual art issues.

Art and Organised Labour has developed around two overlapping concepts of historical moment and identity. The first deals with art and imagery created in response to major historical events in the labour movement in New Zealand – often as a result of protest and struggle.

The other category, identity, explores mages produced initially by organised labour and union groups. It represents the ideals and aspirations of the working class. But identity also incorporates art and imagery produced from outside the labour movement–from media, advertising, cartoons, films, paintings and sculpture.

"The exhibition examines the way the image of the working class has built up and how the labour movement has been depicted" said Curator Greg Burke. "This is not an historical show but it is essential to look at certain historical events which affected collective consciousness. These events drove imagery and imagery comes out of moments of struggle and urgency."

Frequently the imagery of the union movement was mass produced–photographs, posters or cartoons. They were not made for aesthetic reasons but designed as tools to convey a message.

Art and Organised Labour coincided with the 100th anniversary of the 1890 maritime strike which the Trade Union Movement in New Zealand takes as its birth. The exhibition, a major New Zealand 1990 Project, was organised with the assistance of the Trade Union Education Authority and the Trade Union History Project. It has received substantial financial support from the New Zealand 1990 Commission as well as a grant from the exhibition programme, visual arts, Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand. It is sponsored by Union Shipping Group Limited and New Zealand Stevedoring Company Limited.

('Art and Organised Labour', Bulletin, No.77, December 1991/January/February 1992, p.1)