Limerick, Ireland

Women Artists Action Group (Archive of Pauline Cummins)

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, 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 Fionna 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 1991, WAAG received its first grant. For their part, WAAG, in collaboration with IAWA, organized an international symposium at the newly opened Irish Museum of Modern Art and a site-specific outdoor exhibition around Moss Street, Upper Exchange Street, Heuston Station, George’s Quay, and the Customs House Quay, Dublin. The project, titled “Women Artists and the Environment,” focused on the harmony between the city and the river.

As the first ambitious project of the action group, the Slide Exhibition revisits the original exhibition of 1987 with some shortcomings. The image archive of the original show was not fully preserved; after so many years, the participant list and installation images did not survive. (During WAAG’s period of activity, some members took their slides back to reuse them for other projects.) The presentation at the 39th EVA International includes a selected group of artists with two works per artist from the archive. The environment that slides were produced in, unequal lighting, errors in perspective, and cropping all reflect the conditions of the late 1980s.

WAAG’s participation forms part of Little did they know, the Guest Programme of the 39th EVA International, curated by Merve Elveren. The presentation draws from the archive of Pauline Cummins, held at National Irish Visual Arts Library (NIVAL), NCAD, Dublin.

WAAG, Women Artists Action Group, was a countrywide organisation founded by Pauline Cummins in Ireland in 1987. Its purpose was to promote women artists working in Ireland through exhibitions, seminars, and publications. The membership consisted of artists and art historians. WAAG’s initial exhibition showed works by 90 women artists in the Guinness HopStore. The group formed links with an international European network of women in the arts, enabling members works to be shown in Germany, Austria, Spain, and the Netherlands. WAAG established a slide bank and held seminars in Derry and Dublin culminating in the exhibition, Women Artists and the Environment (1991) with site specific work by international artists throughout Dublin as well as a forum in IMMA, opened by President Mary Robinson, with key speakers, the art activists the Guerrilla Girls.

Pauline Cummins’ performance and video work examines the human condition from a feminist perspective. Cummins collaborates with artists and communities in public sites and situations. A retrospective of her video work, Between One and Another, was held in CCI Paris 2012. Cummins has worked in prisons as a visiting artist. Her early work Inis t·Oirr was shown in Elliptical Affinities, Highlanes Gallery; Limerick City Gallery (2020), and was a central installation in GAZE, IMMA (2019). Cummins was one of 16 selected visual art performers in Future Histories, Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin (2016). Her performance as The Duchess of Leinster and as Lord Edward Fitzgerald was part of These Immovable Walls-performing Power in Dublin Castle (2014).

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