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  • Writer's pictureAmy Couling

Zonta Ashburton Female Art Awards 2024

On Friday 1st March was the opening night of the Zonta Ashburton Female Art Awards, where one of my works was selected to be shown as an award finalist. The awards are presented by the Zonta club of Ashburton in partnership with Ashburton Art Gallery, and Zonta itself is an international organisation that advocates for women and girls worldwide to live lives free from violence, poverty and trafficking.

The Zonta Ashburton Female Art Awards has been running for eight years and their mission is to showcase the work of emerging and mid-career female artists from around Waitaha Canterbury. I had put my work forward for this award in the past but had never gotten selected, so I was very happy to have my work chosen as a finalist this year!

My painting Amaterasu 天照大御神, which is a personal favourite of mine that means a lot to me, was selected to be a finalist in the show. It is painted with gouache on cold pressed watercolour paper that I completed in 2022.

Amaterasu is the most important god in Japanese mythology. She is the goddess of the sun and ruler of the heavenly realm. Her name means ‘to illuminate heaven’. Amaterasu is portrayed in Japan’s ancient texts the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki and she is a major deity of Japan’s Shinto religion. Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture is dedicated to the worship of Amaterasu, and it is one of the most sacred and important Shinto sites in the country. The imperial family of Japan is also said to be her descendants.

Amaterasu is the bearer of the imperial regalia, or the sanshu no jingi 三種の神器. These three sacred treasures include the sword (valour), the mirror (wisdom) and the jewel (benevolence). Amaterasu gave these treasures to her grandson to take down to earth and start the imperial family line. 

These three treasures are also present in my Yoshikawa kamon (family crest) as our main house (honke) was a Shinto shrine that worshipped Amaterasu and my family members were the priests that looked after the shrine (it still exists today). I've snuck in my kamon on her kimono sleeve to show that connection to her...can you spot it?

My Mum came with me to the opening night and we had so much fun dressing in kimono together and attending the event, as it has become our tradition to wear kimono for my art openings! I chose this lovely yellow kimono with plum blossoms that my mum received from a friend in Kyoto last year. The beautifully embroidered obi was one that I got second hand from the famous Kitano Tenmangū Market in Kyoto. I chose the kimono colour so that I would match with my Amaterasu painting of course!

There were 35 artists’ work selected for the final exhibition, and 26 entries in the Young Generation Award category for artists aged between 16 - 20 years. I loved the whole premise of these Zonta awards and exhibition which showcased the amazing work of local women artists, and it was great to be there for the opening night to celebrate it.

I also loved the fact that the whole of Ashburton Gallery was filled with women artists’ work; as they had last year’s award winner Jo Burzynska’s exhibition Scents Take Up the Ringing in the next space, along with Marian Maguire’s print show The Enlightenment Project.

After being written out of art history for most of human history, it’s about time that our work is finally being openly celebrated and given its proper due! Thank you to everyone who went to see my work in the show and there is still this week left if you wanted to catch the exhibition before it closes!

ZAFAA 2024

Opening night: 1 March

Exhibition: 2 March - 14 April

Ashburton Art Gallery

327 West Street, Hakatere Ashburton

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