WAAG Women artists Action Group.

Includes the Feminist Women's Collective WAAG My influences: I would always say I wanted to be an artist when I grew up and I might have done so as my mother was very encouraging, but it wasn't to be as in my early teens she was diagnosed with cancer and after a few years of intermittent hospital procedures, with me not bring told the truth she died when I was just 18 years. My dad was heartbroken and exhausted, life as I knew it fell apart and I ended up in a mundane office job. A nice boy stole my heart and I think my Dad was glad to have me off his hands.

I married had children and lived if not exactly 'Happy Ever After' then, an ordinary life. After a happening in my life, when my much longed-for baby was stillborn, I didn’t paint for years.

One day I wandered into an exhibition of sculptures, small scale abstract pieces, with dark brown glaze. Not my usual taste. I was intrigued. One piece in particular captured my attention. It seemed sad and even abject, I asked if I could lift it. The sculptor was there and was delighted to allow this request I ran my hands over it, it calmed me and I font know to this day why I wanted to buy it more than anything I ever wanted.

The sculptor invited me for coffee after I did the deal. He quizzed me as to why I chose this particular oddly shaped piece. I told him about my dead baby and I couldn’t stop my tears it transpired that he was a psychiatrist and worked with people confined in a home. He recognised my pain and asked me some leading questions...he told me about a patient who couldn’t talk, after months of trying every therapy he tried clay with her. This medium brought her on a journey whereby she began to make coffins, six of them, and wouldn't come back to the art room for weeks between each session, finally she began to speak she was a farmer’s wife from the midlands, and had 6 miscarriages, telling no- one except her husband.

She retreated into a silent world. Eventually she made her 6 tiny foetuses and placed them in the coffins she then buried them in the garden in the home, beneath an oak tree. This story affected me enormously. I told the arrist Zi was one a painter, I actually said that I made pretty pictures. He sent me home, with my new little sculpture in my arms, and told me to get my paints out and lock myself into a room and just paint everything I had spoken about! (put this image here) The following spring I applied to Dun Laoghaire School of Art and Design and was accepted as a mature student, at the grand old age of 37! And so the third phrase of my life began this was in 1977. It was a very exciting time to be an art student, altho' in college, apart from a few p/t lecturers the teaching was very traditional.

We had to look outside Ireland, the USA and The Netherlands and Germany where exciting stuff was happening. Women artists were hardly mentioned and when I one asked for a book on Frieda kahlo I was given a gig Art Noe anthology, where he name was referenced as 'Frieda Kahlo, wife of Diego Revira, see page number ...! meanwhile outside the walls of the college the North of Ireland was on fire - It was also the time of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, with protests and resistance pioneered by the wonderful Martin Luther King. Alongside this, a powerful women’s lobby was forming in California, which quickly spread through all of the States. Artists took part in the Universal Women’s Liberation Movement, and, spearheaded by Artist Judy Chicago, Louise Bourgeoise, Nancy Spero etc. (too many to mention) took to the streets in protest against the lack of women in the arts and pointed to the New York School of Art, led by Art Critic Clement Greenberg whose writing canonizing the enormous Expressionistic oil paintings and large scale, commissioned, public art works done by rugged male practitioners, whose works were sold for what was purported to be millions of dollars.

Women artists reacted with the slogan 'The Personal is Political' and using their own bodies in performance film, and making work from generic materials in consciousness – raising workshops, exhibitions and instillations. I had to go to NCAD to find books which I could learn about Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, both lecturers in UCLA, in early 70's, who were dissatisfied with the male-dominated arts education in their college. They  about developing a Feminist Art Programme in Fresno State College and ‘Womanhouse’ was born. This installation became the first public Feminist Art Exhibition. For more on this, See: Womanhouse a Feminist Art Program. Judy Chicago and Helen Chapiro went on to develop the enormous Community Project ‘The Dinner Party’ which was buried for years and only now in her 80’s that Judy is being recognized as a monumental figure in American Art.

She came back into public view when it was brought out of storage and was shown Internationally. It is now permanently installed in Brooklyn Museum and has become a canonical work, tho’ Chicago says it almost destroyed her career, she lost her studio, her marriage and her financial security. ‘It is grotesque’, Chicago says, that while the Dinner Party, made 40 years ago, still feels so relevant - at this point in America the same debates are still raging about birth control abortion and representation, women still have to fight the same goddam fight we fought in the 70’s. She quotes the historian Gerda Lerner – “Women live in a state of trained ignorance”. History of WAAG 1n the late 70's we had our own Women’s Movement here in Ireland. Called WAAG,(Artists Action Group), was headed by Pauline Cummins and Breeda Mooney and Rennie Haughton. they were soon joined by a number of other enthusiastic women artists; Louise Walsh, Alice Maher, Patricia McKenna and many more.

We met regularly and began a news sheet which we distributed all over Ireland and recruited many more members. we decided on having a slide show inviting three or four artists to show their new work, especially those who were struggling with feeling isolated and/ or bogged down with family responsibility, however much we loved our children and family. It was a very successful project as we all very comfortable talking about problems amongst an understanding peer group. we started a round table group in the Resource Centre, a great eatery and hang out social meeting place, run by Rehab, in the heart of Temple Bar area. it was reserved for us on Fridays anyone could just introduce themselves to whoever was there and join in the conversation. Artists came from far and wide to join in the lively conversations.

This was the beginning of our protests and resist exhibitions showing the art of protest. it was a very a vibrant time and we had some great moments. NIWAAG a Northern Ireland women’s group joined us and we held a big conference in the Orchard Gallery in Derry when we had w in Dublin as part of an International sculpture Symposium which was attended by the Guerrilla Girls.! We also organized an open-submission woman’s exhibition Kilmainham, as a response to the many Gallery Shows by male artists, more can be found about WAAG in this year’s EVA where a slide Library of many of the members can be enjoyed, thanks its Pauline Cummins and Catherine Marshall owing to the Pandemic the show can be viewed on line on the EVA website will be open live if and when thing come back to a new normal will continue in the early days of IMMA Kilmainham, as a response to the many exhibitions by male artists. More information can be found about WAAG in this year’s EVA Limerick City Gallery (and other spaces across the City) where a slide Library of many of the members can be enjoyed, thanks to Pauline Cummins and Catherine Marshall. Owing to the Pandemic the show can only be viewed on line on the EVA website which will be open 'live' if and when things come back to a new normal, and will continue throughout 2001. Through the pioneering work of Veronica Bolay, Pauline Cummins, Jenny Haughton, Patricia Hurl, Patricia McKenna, and Breeda Mooney, WAAG was founded in April 1987 as a reaction to the exclusion of women artists working in Ireland from key local and international exhibitions.

In Circa’s August/September 1988 issue, writer Joan Fowler described the group with these words: “WAAG was formed in a spirit of democracy among women, as well as the idea of women artists themselves developing their own causes rather than others deciding these for them.” During the Third International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women in July 1987 WAAG organised a photo slide exhibition at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin, featuring 91 women artists. The show had an open submission format, in which artists could participate in by sending photo slides of their works—a strategy of exhibition-making much ahead of its time. The database quickly evolved into the WAAG Slide Library with more than one hundred women artists, constituting the most extensive women artist visual archive in Ireland. Soon after they organized their first inaugural exhibition at the Guinness Hop Store. In 1988, Pauline Cummins, the group’s chairwoman, stated that WAAG’s actions laid the foundation for the growth of strong, vigorous feminist art practice in Ireland.

In light of this statement, WAAG artists continued their exhibitions and workshops at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, The City Centre and through sister exhibitions outside of Ireland with the International Association of Women in the Arts (IAWA). In June 1988, they collaborated with Orchard Art Gallery on a symposium on the practice of artist May Stevens, which took place in Derry at Foyle Arts Centre.

Art historian and curator Fiona Barber, art historian and critic Moira Roth, filmmaker, and Derry Film and Video Collective member Anne Crilly, and artists Pauline Cummins, Helen Chadwick, Aileen McKeogh and May Stevens were among the speakers of the symposium, addressing the exclusion of women’s works from exhibitions, and, by extension, the canon of art history. When Dublin was officially inaugurated as the European City of Culture in 1991Phase 1 of the 39th EVA International was the first of a three-phase exhibition programme that will unfold across venues in Limerick city and online, from September 2020 to December 2021. Phase 1 featured 12 presentations by Irish and international artists and collaborating curators, taking place across Limerick City Gallery of Art, The Hunt Museum, Sailor’s Home, Enable Ireland, EVA Offices and Archive, at outdoor locations, and online. Taking its reference from the “Golden Vein,” a 19th-century descriptor for the agricultural bounty of the Limerick region, the 39th EVA International programme across all phases seeks to question ideas of land and its contested values in the context of Ireland today. Through the work of the participating artists, these questions extend to broader considerations of how we relate to the land in terms of ideology, identity, and resource. Phase 1 of the 39th EVA International featured a Guest Programme titled Little did they know, curated by Merve Elveren, featuring artists, Yane Calovski, Eirene Efstathiou, Michele Horrigan, Melanie Jackson and Esther Leslie, Driant Zeneli, and presentations by the Women Artists Action Group from the archive of Pauline Cummins (collection of National Irish Visual Arts Library (NIVAL), NCAD, Dublin). Little did they know also features a series of ‘dossiers’ by Sara Greavu that have been developed with artist Ciara Phillip other contributors.

Available online www.eva.ie