On Her Own Terms: The Women’s Art Initiative 

The Women’s Art Initiative (WAI) is a collective of women from diverse backgrounds, who come together regularly to create and exhibit art anonymously in Palmerston North. WAI was established in 2013, as part of Karen McIntyre’s Master of Maori Visual Arts research and has since grown with two new collectives due to open in Wellington and Blenheim early next year. The studio is a buzz of creative energy, lively chatter, and productivity. Yet the women who come to the WAI studio are not professional artists; they are drawn together for other reasons.


Frustrated by the misinterpretation of both the violence she had experienced in her life, and the misrepresentation of herself as either a ‘brave survivor’ or a ‘vulnerable victim’, McIntyre found a way to portray the complexity of her story on her own terms through her art. Inspired by her own experience, McIntyre set about creating a space in which other women could, “self-represent [their] experiences in a safe and empowering way which acknowledges their resistance to violence and still upholds their dignity.” The members of the WAI collective all work anonymously, with exception of McIntyre.


All WAI collectives are run alongside Women’s Refuge for support, but are funded by grants and community funding, not by the Refuges involved. The goal of WAI is not to offer art as therapy, or for women to feel obliged to talk about their experiences, but to encourage an active engagement in art making as a means of sharing their stories. In McIntyre’s own words “The table wobbles, the jug leaks and there is barely enough space when we are all there but the WAI studio is a special place. We share our narratives of violence alongside all of the other parts of our lives.” The reason these women all came together is not a positive one, yet when visiting the studio all one sees is a hub of industrious creativity and cheerful chatter.

To see more work by WAI visit The Women’s Art Initiative facebook page.


Serena Siegenthaler-Brown

All three images are from the recent WAI exhibition titled Bloom held at the Square Edge Art Centre. Artists involved exhibit anonymously.