9 March 2023

The art of gender equality recognised at the National Gallery

| Sally Hopman
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National Gallery of Australia’s Assistant Director, Collections and Exhibitions, Natasha Bullock, received the 2023 ACT Australian Award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership. Photo: National Gallery of Australia.

So what makes a good leader? Passion? Tick. Dedication? Tick. Welcoming rather than fearing change? Double tick.

Natasha Bullock, the Assistant Director, Collections and Exhibitions at the National Gallery, should know.

This week the award-winning curator and historian was honoured, named winner of the 2023 ACT Australian Awards for Excellence in Women’s Leadership.

The annual awards acknowledge and commemorate women making important contributions, encouraging change, and paving the way for equality in all areas of life in Australia.

Ms Bullock, who has spent the past 25 years working in the arts and cultural sector, said she was especially “chuffed” as the award was voted on by the public.

“I also see it as a reward for what the National Gallery is doing when it comes to change,” she said.

READ ALSO Political trailblazers honoured on International Women’s Day

Since joining the NGA in 2019, Ms Bullock has spearheaded its Gender Equity Plan, which drives the gallery towards equal rights for women in all aspects of the cultural institution, from its collections to its programs to everyday operations.

She created the Know My Name program, a call to action to celebrate the diversity and contribution made by Australia’s female artists.

Ms Bullock believes everything stems from change.

“And when it comes to change,” she said, “someone always has to lead.

“It’s very important for the arts sector to be in that position, to lead. Through the Know My Name initiative, particularly for the smaller regional galleries, we want it to encourage them to pull the works by women out and put them on display. If they can see the National Gallery doing something like that, they can do it too.

“That’s why I see this award as for what the gallery is doing, not just me.”

Although it is her passion, Ms Bullock said she looked forward to the day when we didn’t always have to talk about gender equity.


To mark International Women’s Day, the NGA announced the acquisition of three works by women, including this piece by Ethel Carrick, Esquisse en Australie (Sketch in Australia) 1908. Photo: National Gallery of Australia.

“It seems we’ve been talking about gender equality since when I was at university many years ago, I won’t say how many,” she laughed. “We were having the same conversations back then.

“I would love it if we didn’t have to talk about this all the time. Yes, we are 51 per cent of the population, but we’re sick of being swallowed up in the big narratives. There is merit in inclusive pathways. What we’re doing is weaving through the lens of gender but change has to be structural,” she said.

“We can see that with the Voice to Parliament coming up. We have to make structural change to be able to see the bigger picture.

“We have inherited many of our systems from men, from the old-fashioned colonial system in which we once lived. That is a much bigger proposition. I like to say you are what you see,” she said.

“If you don’t see a difference, for example, more art by women, then the next generations will come through thinking it is OK to just celebrate male artists.”

READ ALSO Boost for women artists as NGA launches first Gender Equity Action Plan

Ms Bullock said for her, a good leader was someone with “humility, openness and with the ability to take people with you and acknowledge their contributions along the way”.

Scheduled to accept the award at the Australian Women’s Leadership Symposium in Canberra on 23 June, Ms Bullock said it was an honour to be recognised, with both the award and the legacy that she now gets to share “with so many outstanding female leaders as we continuously move towards a more inclusive future”.

Speaking to Region on International Women’s Day this week, Ms Bullock said she was proud to announce that the NGA had met its gender equity commitments over the past 12 months.

In 2022, women artists were represented at the NGA in:

  • 55 per cent of the total works acquired;
  • 64 per cent of the works in special exhibitions. and
  • 44 per cent of the works in touring exhibitions.

For the full list of award winners across Australia, visit Women and Leadership Australia.

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Yes – good art shouldn’t be determined by gender or age or cultural identity

What proportion of the works created are womens work?
How much harder does a male artist have to be recognised?

This is not ‘equality’, its affirmative action by reverse discrimination.

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