WHITE, A. Lois;

Self-Portrait at Easel

Oil on board
490 x 275mm (image); 675 x 460mm (frame)

The following newspaper article, ‘Lois Was a Sister’, by Peter Wells (1950–2019) was published in response to the major retrospective By the Waters of Babylon: The Art of A. Lois White, curated by Nicola Green (1962–2011). The show included Self-Portrait at Easel.


Peter Wells

Auckland City Art Gallery now boasts a remarkable exhibition of paintings and drawings by a woman we can be proud as an ancestor of queer Aoteoroa.

Lois A. White painted an extraordinary range of images, the most compelling of which illuminate female eroticism. Again and again we find stylised ‘art deco’ images of bare-breasted women enjoying each other’s company, frolicking in the waves and wind, carefree, proud and beautiful. These are stunning lesbian images, contemporary and coolly elegant.

Who was Lois White? Like many of the queer women and men of our past, she may have had to live a life of prevarication and guarded disclosure. Lilian Federman’s extraordinary book, ‘Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers’, details how lesbians of an earlier age took refuge in the safety of what appeared, on the surface, to be two maiden aunt-types living together, or associating closely. In the homophobic past, this provided safety.

On the surface, Lois White was a rather prim-looking Methodist art teacher. The emotional truth is revealed in her intensely erotic imaginings of women. Check out the audio-visual presentation. There you see photos of the young Lois, in pert swimsuits, her nipples pressing against the fabric, carefree and happy, unconsciously radiating sexual allure and strength. This is Lois’ sexual truth, not the prevarications of her life-style in provincial New Zealand of the interwar and postwar period.

It’s interesting that the exhibition can only hint at Lois’s lesbianism. As gay men and lesbians we have to provide the link ourselves. But it is unmistakably there. This exhibition is something to shout out about with joy. And perhaps there’s a kind of irony that Lois’ images of barebeasted women look like stylised views of the proud lesbians parading down Queen Street in the latest Hero Parade. It is a salute from the past to the present.

Don’t miss this show. Lois was a sister.

It costs $5 waged ($3 concession) and runs till May 8 in Auckland, then moves on to Hamilton, Dunedin, Wellington, Napier and Christchurch.

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Exhibition History

By the Waters of Babylon: The Art of A. Lois White, curated by Nicola Green, Auckland City Art Gallery (later Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki), Tāmaki Makaurau, 4 March to 8 May 1994


Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from Webb’s, Tāmaki Makaurau