Jacqueline Fahey (b. 1929) The birthday party 1974 oil on hardboard 95 x 121cm Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection

Jacqueline Fahey is well known for producing narrative paintings about women’s lives, often relating to her own experience. The birthday party is a key example of Fahey’s depiction of family and domestic situations.

The birthday party records the aftermath of a domestic celebration. The loaded table at the centre of the image becomes a world within a world. Littered with stray balloons, screwed up wrapping paper and discarded sweets it marks the elements of a child’s birthday party. The effects of the event are indicated in the attitudes of the figures—excitement and exhaustion. The image is a record of generational distance and cleverly reworks the conventions of familial representation.

Fahey unravels the conventions of family portraiture by giving these marginal domestic objects centre stage and casting the subjects to the periphery. The family members themselves are distanced from each other, emphasising mental and emotional separation.

Her paintings are chaotic settings for complex inter-personal dramas. Fahey is acknowledged as an important role model within the feminist history of New Zealand art, particularly for the perceptive insight and irreverence she brings to her themes of personal life.