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image icon 'Women hold up half the sky', 1978

'Women hold up half the sky', 1978
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a screenprint on paper by Ann Newmarch (1945-) made in 1978. Measuring 91.5 cm x 65.0 cm, the print is a boldly coloured photographic image of a woman holding a man in her arms, his legs thrust out to one side and his arms outspread. They are both wearing swimsuits and the woman supports the man's weight by holding him under his thighs and around his back. They are both looking at the camera and smiling. To the right of the pair is the side of a timber-clad house. There is a small grey triangular shape at each corner of the print like the corners once used to hold photographs in place in photographic albums. The title of the print, 'Women hold up half the sky!' is screenprinted in capitals below the photographic image.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a well-known screenprint by Ann Newmarch - this Adelaide-based artist has made a significant contribution to feminist and community art practice within Australia; she is a founding member of a number of art groups including the Progressive Art Movement (1974-77), the Women's Art Movement (1976-84) and the Prospect Mural Group (1976-84), and was also a lecturer at the South Australian School of Art (1969-2000); her repertoire includes drawing, painting, printmaking, assemblage and installation, as well as a range of community projects; Newmarch's images are largely derived from the complexities, conflicts and enthusiasms of being a working woman, mother and artist in late 20th-century Australia
  • is a political statement about the status of women in society - several of Newmarch's works from the mid-1970s contrasted idealised media images of women with more realistic portrayals taken from real life
  • is a personal statement - the original photograph used as the basis for this screenprint is of the artist's Aunt Peggy lifting her husband for a dare; her aunt was a remarkable woman who was a real 'Aussie battler' and who brought up eight children on her own; Newmarch was inspired to make a series of works celebrating her aunt's achievements
  • shows how some artists have the capacity to use elements of their personal life to make universal statements - 'Women hold up half the sky' is an iconic work that, for many Australians, has come to represent the values and attitudes of the politically active era of the 1970s, when it was made; Newmarch ensured that this image would speak for the achievements of many women (not just her Aunt Peggy) by re-presenting a domestic photograph as a banner or placard through the use of bright colours and added text
  • references a significant period of social and political history - the text at the bottom of the image is a quote from Mao Zedong (1893-1976), who was Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (1945-76); in the 1970s Mao was looked on by many outside of China as a social reformer with counsel to offer the world; a published anthology of his quotations (known in the West as 'The little red book') helped to popularise many of his sayings; among these sayings was the insight that women are the equal of men in that they 'hold up half the sky'
  • challenges convention - the tradition is that the man carries or lifts the woman and that men do the building not the women; Newmarch has noted that her Aunt Peggy built her own home from hand-made bricks that she made at night while her children slept; she has also observed that the use of blue in the upper part of the print tends to give the impression 'that the man is in fact holding up all the sky and the woman is holding up the man’ … ' which 'causes a giggle from time to time, especially from women'
  • is a photographic silkscreen print - the silkscreen process involves applying a stencil to a piece of silk that has been tightly stretched over a wooden frame (the screen); prints are made by pulling ink across the surface of the screen with a rubber blade (squeegee); the stencil determines where the ink will pass through the silk onto the sheet of paper beneath (the print); separate stencils are needed for each layer of colour; this is a three-colour print in black, blue and orange, which gives the image a particular surreal (or unworldly) quality; a photographic screenprint involves the use of a photographic negative as the basis for the stencil.