Margaret Dodd was born in Berri, South Australia, in 1941. Although she wanted to be an artist, the cultural conventions of the 1950s led her to become a high school art teacher. In 1964 she accompanied her academic husband to his new post at Yale, which meant that she was unable to work, but she was able to enjoy the riches of the American art museums. Her fellow academic wives were reading Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, and their lively discussions about the constraints laid upon women had a significant impact on her thinking.

In mid-1965 her husband was posted to the University of California at Davis, which led to her studying sculpture with Tio Giaimbruni and ceramics with Robert Arneson, one of the seminal figures in the Funk movement.

She participated in the first group exhibition of Funk artists at Museum West in San Francisco, where her work wss favourably noticed by Time magazine. She also developed an interest in experimental film, especially the new works by feminist film makers.

In 1968, just after she completed her BA in Art at UC Davis, the family returned to Australia as her husband had been given a tenured position at the University of Adelaide. The family was located in a newly built Housing Trust house at Holden Hill, the last stop on the bus route. After California, life in the barren suburbs was especially depressing. She made her first ceramic model Holden car, which was destroyed by local children.The car was both a symbol of liberation, as it was the only feasible way to leave the suburbs, but also oppression as women were the constant drivers of children.

In 1969 Dodd moved close to the centre of Adelaide and reforged friendships from her students years. She became associated with the Experimental Art Foundation and the Jam Factory, where she made many of her car ceramics.

A 1975 visit to Adelaide by the American critic, Lucy Lippard, triggered a more formal women's art movement and in 1977 she was involved in organising The Women's Show, Adelaide's first large exhibition of contemporary feminist art.

In 1974 Dodd was a visiting artist at Structuur 68, an artists' ceramic studio in Amsterdam. While she was there she saw Maya Deren's experimental film, "Meshes of the Afternoon(",which led her to consider the possibility of making her own films. This Woman is Not a Car was made over a number of years It began originally as an animation incorporating both her ceramic cars and advertisements from car manufacturers. Support from the Australian Film Institute and later the Australian Film Corporation, enabled it to be developed to completion with live actors – but the crew and cast all donated their time.

It was formally released in 1982 and remains one of the most potent critiques of the restrictions placed on women in the suburbs. One of the scenes in the film shows a newly married couple slicing a wedding cake which is a car. Dodd has written that she sees the Holden car as "The Bride of Australia", a US concept transplanted to a colonised country.

Her Bridal Holden(1977) was exhibited in The Great Australian Art Exhibitionthat toured the country in 1988-89.

In later years Dodd has revisited her Holden ceramics as elements of an Australian archaeology – fragments to be discovered by future archaeologists long after humanity has perished.


Joanna Mendelssohn
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