Sisterly, The Dowse Museum, May – September 2023

Sisterly forges a spiritual sisterhood between A. Lois White (1903-1984), Rosaleen Norton (1917-1979) and Jen Alexandra—three artists whose work transcends the ordinary.

Born in early 20th century New Zealand, A. Lois White and Rosaleen Norton were both artists ahead of their time, whose allegorical paintings explored themes of spiritual belief and female sexuality. Their paths did not cross in life: Norton moved to Sydney and became known as the ‘Witch of King’s Cross’, whereas White, raised in a staunch Methodist family, rose to prominence in the Auckland art scene for her Biblical and politically themed artwork. However, the surprising similarities in Norton and White’s artwork reveals there is far more to both artists than merely wicked witch or puritanical painter. 

An evocative new installation by Ōtautahi Christchurch-based artist Jen Alexandra teases out elements of sublime sexuality, magical symbolism and feminine power that has always been present in their artwork. Levitating over a central altar, Alexandra offers up a series of potent and mysterious sculptural objects that respond intuitively to White and Norton’s energies. Entering the space through a smoky perfumed veil, Alexandra invites us to reconsider conventional readings of their work by crossing over into other realms of experience.

Sisterly is curated by Dr Chelsea Nichols and Aaron Lister, as part of Curator of Screams—a series of collaborative projects examining the relationship between art and horror films. The genesis of this exhibition was inspired by supernatural films like Suspiria or The Craft, where the archetype of the ‘witch’ becomes an outlet for unconventional women to unleash their sexual power and creative freedom.

Photography courtesy of The Dowse Museum