Gillian Cronin at Tutere

Inspired by travels in North Africa

By Kate Hartmann

Currently on show at Tutere Gallery are a series of small paintings by local Waikanae artist Gillian Cronin.

An intrepid traveller, Gillian and her husband are often away on adventure to exotic locales.

Their most recent trip overseas was to India and once on a trip to Morocco Gillian’s husband was offered a couple of camels for her, we are extremely grateful he declined!

These trips away are incredibly inspiring and often provide inspiration for subsequent paintings.

Memory to canvas 

Gillian in Ethiopia

Sometimes this transition from memory to the canvas can come quickly and sometimes it takes a bit longer to percolate.

In the case of this series it has been 18 years since Gillian visited Ethiopia but the trip left such a strong impression it is very much alive and present in these works.

As Gillian explains:

Around 18 years ago, I visited Ethiopia. This was my first trip to Africa and it left a profound impression on me, both as a woman and as an artist. Poverty in Africa exists on a completely different scale to the third world living conditions I had previously encountered in Asia and South America.

One of my most potent memories of Ethiopia was about just how hard it was to meet local women. While boys do at least play in the streets and seemed to enjoy following tourists around and showed curiosity, girls and women were just less visible.

Ethiopian woman roasting coffee beans

 If girls weren’t at school they were by and large working and much of that work was heavy domestic work done behind closed doors or in walled courtyards.

The paintings reflect my own thoughts on the many and additional difficulties women face in patriarchal and fundamentalist societies establishing their own sense of identity.

Just who are these women of Ethiopia who spend their days often doing hard physical work yet remain separate, under wraps from the public gaze, all but invisible?

“Women under Wraps”

These four works are collectively called Women under Wraps, the other four works on show are together called The Protecting Veil series and as Gillian explains were painted in response to a particular place in Ethiopia they visited:

The inspiration is rooted specifically in Harar, a small Muslim enclave in a largely Christian Ethiopia. Entering Harar, a holy Islamic walled city, was an experience I can only describe as stepping through an Alice in Wonderland like gate into another century and another world.

Memories of peaceful ancient Harar are overlaid by TV images of fundamentalist Muslim countries where women’s dress is no longer a matter of personal choice but political dictate. The paintings were never intended to be a cry of feminist outrage but rather they are an attempt to start a conversation that begins with walking in someone else’s shoes. 

I have tried to slip inside the minds of those veiled women to become them. I wanted to be behind the veil looking out. Do they feel anger or is the veil a way of escaping from the world? Protector of oppressor?  

The title “The Protecting Veil” also references a piece of music by John Tavener, I was listening to a lot, while I was creating the works. This twentieth century composition for cello and strings reflects the composer’s Russian Orthodox religious faith. The work is quite meditative and allows my mind to wander back to the subject of ‘invisible women’, and the difficulties particularly young women must have in establishing their own sense of identity.

(The Painted Veil and Women under Wraps by Gillian Cronin now on show at Tutere Gallery until mid May 2018.) 


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