Art & creativity  |  9 Feb 2024

Christchurch artist, Jen Alexandra, has displayed her artwork internationally, in exhibitions across New Zealand and locally – from the Art Gallery to Cashel Street Mall.

She has now been announced as the recipient of the prestigious 2024 Olivia Spencer Bower Award.  

Jen spent her late teens and early twenties in Ōtautahi, before heading overseas to Melbourne and London and eventually moving back to Christchurch in 2019.

Currently, Jen is a doctoral candidate at the University of Canterbury in Art History and Aotahi, the School of Māori and Indigenous Studies.

“I’m curious about our contemporary birth and death rituals as a way of knowing,” Jen says.

“My work questions Aotearoa’s history of colonisation in relation to spiritual practices, using my own creative language to address our connection to nature as a belief system.”

She says the Ōtautahi arts community have influenced her artistic journey – the welcoming, supportive and inspiring network of artists, curators and educators.

“My previous studio for three years was at Seven Oaks, Waltham, where a former horticulture campus was left to grow wild,” Jen says.

“It was a large, empty, plastic growing house with blackberries climbing over it, rows of fruit trees and thorny tangles of blackberries, elderberries and figs.

Jen highlights the Olivia Spencer Bower Award as a career-changing opportunity, offering focused devotion to her studio practice.

“At this point in my career, the dedicated time provides invaluable space for continuity of thinking and making while prioritising material experimentation.”

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū Curator Melanie Oliver will present a talk together with Jen at the Christchurch Art Gallery on Saturday 10 February, 11am, to discuss the life of Olivia Spencer Bower.

Established in 1987, painter Olivia Spencer Bower (1905-1982) intended the award to provide an opportunity for artists, in particular female artists, to pursue their own direction for a year.

Many previous award recipients have gone on to have distinguished careers and have the award seen as a significant milestone, representing the legacy of a generous artist continuing to support contemporary artists today.

Image credit: Sarah Rowlands