The Covid-19 pandemic laid bare the heightened and continued economic and domestic disparities women experience in the workforce. Over the last three years, women were laid off at a higher rate, and those priviledged to be able to work from home still bore the brunt of the caregiving and domestic labour. This widening inequality has sparked a renewed interest in the work of feminist scholar and activist, Silvia Federici, who founded the Wages for Housework movement in the 1970s, which fought for governments to recognize that unpaid domestic work done by women is a form of gendered economic oppression. As Federici famously said: “They call it love, we call it unpaid labour.”
Artist Mary Rawlyk’s artwork explores how housework goes unnoticed and unpaid. During the 1970s, Mary Rawlyk was a full-time mother, housewife and a trained printmaker. Struggling to find time and energy to make art, she wrote: “There are times when I feel my very soul and creativity are extinguished by household trivia. Many prints never reach completion because of domestic disruptions.” She began reading feminist texts and discovered she was not alone in her dissatisfaction with the domestic role, and realized that her art could be a way to express her struggles. Rawlyk developed a series entitled Unpaid Labour (1973-1977) that explores domestic labour through imagery of the household objects she used such as a stove, iron, and sewing machines. Her series entitled Housewife (1982), incorporates a portrait of herself within the domestic objects, a personal reflection on feeling invisible and isolated in daily domestic tasks. A more overt political comment on women’s roles is seen in Canadian Apron Flag (1982) which replaces the maple leaf with an apron, it’s ties mimicking hands on hips—a confrontational gesture.
The Robert McLaughlin Gallery has a rich history of supporting and collecting women artists. With a collection of 35 prints by Mary Rawlyk ranging between 1972-1982, this exhibition pulls together a selection of work that explore her personal struggles with housework and how these gendered domestic demands enable a wider political structure that controls women’s lives.
Mary Rawlyk studied art at Mount Allison University (1960-61), and took classes at the Nova Scotia College of Art (1963-66) and Brighton Polytechnic (Brighton, UK, 1971-72). She has had solo exhibitions at Art Gallery of Burlington, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, and The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. Rawlyk’s work can be found in private, corporate and public collections including the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Art Gallery of Guelph, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Ontario, and The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. Rawlyk currently resides in Burlington, Ontario.