Defying Convention: Curator Q+A

Authored by: WAG Staff on May 1, 2018

Defying Convention: Women Artists in Canada, 1900-1960 co-curator Paula Kelly sat down with the WAG to chat about the significance of the exhibition and the role of women in society.

WAG: Why is Defying Convention an important exhibition?

Kelly: Defying Convention is an important showcase for women artists who broke with centuries of social tradition to achieve recognition as professional artists. It also tells the little-known story of how their ground-breaking accomplishments helped shape the landscape of Canadian art during the early decades of the 20th century.

WAG: You dug deep into research for the exhibition, what tidbit did you find out that you weren't aware of before?

Kelly: As someone interested in the origins of things, I was intrigued by the emerging status of the professional artist at the same time women were finding their artistic identities. To be taken seriously as a professional artist was a standard that could only be achieved by years of study, often involving travel to the world centres of art, such as Paris and New York. For women to aspire to professional artistic status was an enormous challenge given the social and financial restraints they faced. And yet the women in this exhibition persevered to fulfill their artistic potential.

WAG: What is your favourite work from the exhibition and why?

Kelly: With more than 45 works in this exhibition, it's very difficult to pick a single favourite. They represent innovation in so many different decades and contexts. Florence McGillivray experiments with Impressionism and Fauvism in the early 20th century. Pegi Nicol MacLeod and Pauline Boutal explore deeply expressive styles, using colour and line to create emotional depth. Elizabeth Wyn Wood's sculpture, Linda, responds to environment with an assured command of scale and form. To me, all these works have exceptional qualities in their own right.

WAG: What do you hope visitors will take away when they view Defying Convention?

Kelly: My hope is that, first and foremost, visitors enjoy the works and the stories behind them. Beyond that, I hope they are as impressed as I was with the profound spirit of commitment shown by these women artists, expressing the world on their own terms.

Featured artwork: E. Prudence Heward. Farmer's Daughter, c. 1938. Oil on canvas. 66.6 x 66.5 cm Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift from the Estate of Prudence Heward G-51-170


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  • I think this you are putting on an important show. Hope to see it but also hope to see some recognized names like Emily Carr. Is anything from her work included?

    Dianne Fitzmauurice

    2018-05-02 19:39

  • This exhibit sounds phenomenal! I will be sure to attend May, June, July and August...

    Cindy Drysdale

    2018-05-06 19:24

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