M a C I I I
MAORI art Curator: At the Centre, on the Margins
+ Jim Vivieaere (1947- 2011) + Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (1943-2014)
© Rangihīroa Panoho and PIHIRAU PRODUCTIONS Ltd, 2016-2018. No part of this document (text or imagery) is free to be copied, plagiarised or shared for publication or for uses neither intended nor agreed on by the author without his or the Director of PIHIRAU Production's express permission. Details for writing to PIHIRAU can be found on the opening page of this website. The opinions expressed are mine and not those of former employers or industry colleagues.
Pū : (noun) exponent, indice, power.
Rū: (verb) to shake, quiver, (noun) earthquake, seismic
In the last few posts I started introducing my Māori and Pacific curatorial legacy. I began asking questions about who controls what is presented in our museums, our galleries and in our publications in Aotearoa. How is this information being presented? What is being protected? What do the gatekeepers see is at risk? My view outside a curatorial or academic position is largely that of an observer. My reference points are my diaries, my correspondence, my personal experiences involving reflection in the field, and the areas of enquiry that now attract my interest.
We live in a highly territorialized world...involving the staking of claims to geographic space, the “production” of territories, and the deployment of territorial strategies. In everyday usage, territory is usually taken to refer to a portion of geographic space that is claimed or occupied by a person or group of persons or by an institution.
David Storey, Territory and Territoriality, Oxford Bibliographies, 26 July 2017
All cultures measure territories with lines defining conceptual and/or actual space(s). Lines are not just cartographical. In te ao Māori anything might be mapped and constitute a boundary: a tree, a rock, a maunga, a portion of a river bank, the distance between two eponymous ancestors. At times spaces comprising volume and the edges of land, sea or forest have, throughout Māori history, been ritually set aside or made tapū. English watercolourist Augustus Earle, travelling across Te Tai Tokerau (October 1827-May 1828) observed this phenomenon with pou rahui, carved ceremonial markers on his journeys, that warned visitors to the area. Warnings did not have to involve implanted carvings. In MAORI ART I recount how my uncle was taken, when he was very young, by my great grandfather, Kerei Tito of Tangiterōria, along the upper reaches of the Northern Wairoa River (a finger of the Kaipara harbour system or whanga). Various fruit trees were pointed out, as they walked along the edges of the awa, deliberately planted by tūpuna, to tempt unwise visitors to break tapū placed over the many burial sites hidden in the riverbanks.
Sometimes a boundary line could be enforced by a rangatira when a pou whenua (whale bone rib form partially adorned with carving and also used as a weapon) was placed by the leader in the ground. Lines could involve mediatory edges constituting zones of refuge. At the battle of Moremonui 1807, involving Ngāti Whātua and Ngāpuhi hapū, the Te Roroa leader ‘…Taoho directed Teke an Uri-o-Hau chief, to get close up to the retreating Nga-Puhi, and with his weapon draw a deep line on the sandy beach beyond which none of the Ngati-Whatua taua were to pass in chase. The blood relationship of the two opposing parties gave rise to the wish not to finally exterminate the vanquished host.’ Lines, made or imagined, might signify spaces comprising identity markers in tribal histories, hapū landscapes and the paths of ancestral journeys or the connecting points of ancestral events.
Lines, boundaries and spatial territories appear to have important symbolic significance in the actual practice of western art as well. Art historian Sir John Richardson (friend and curator of Picasso’s work) attended some of the bullfights the Spanish artist witnessed. The curator remembered the artist turning the event into metaphor. Picasso, he said, so identified with the bull and its minotaur mythology (referenced in Ancient Greek and Cretan cultures) Richardson remembered him saying, ‘If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined with a line, it might represent a minotaur.’
Picasso drawing the form of a bull. Still from Belgian filmmaker Paul Haesaert’s Bezoek aan Picasso 1949. Press on the link for the longer clip showing Picasso filmed action painting on glass from reverse side
The minotaur, considering its whakapapa, is an interesting invention. Neither wholly bull nor wholly human, it sits as metaphor on the edge of cultural mythology and physical reality. There is something enormously theatrical about this transitional area in the context of the arena. Here the bullfight involves ancestral pagentry, human bravery, brute animal strength and a violent collision of ownership over contested space in the plaza de toros. Who will win? Who will die? The matador runs a serious risk as well. Dressed to kill he\she makes it their business to encourage, through ritualised phases, a powerful and harrassed animal into a dance of staggering danger. They are so close that the gold and silver embroidered cloth of the traje de luces ‘suit of lights’ touches the skin of the animal. This is a fragile zone defended, during the tercio las varas, with nothing but skill, fake bravado and a fluttering piece of two faced cloth: magenta and canary yellow.
This story is about staking one’s claim and securing it physically and spiritually. Māori art history and Māori curating has always involved competing spatial territories. This is a story, part memoir/part reflection outlining the way in which different characters move across a space, let’s call it the curated stage of toi tāhuhu ‘Māori art history’, to stake claims involving key areas and opportunities in a field of which I was centrally involved. My narrative, with various acts, entries and exits, is for other academics and/or curators (Māori, Polynesian and First Nation – indeed anyone interested) who may find scenes referenced resonant in their own unfolding careers. My wānanga is my trust placed in collegial strangers with no personal interest in me per se but a great deal of enthusiasm for the intellectual and conceptual territory on which I stood. I regret working with some of those whom I hosted, and with some of those with whom I agreed to be interviewed, and with some of those to whom I offered assistance releasing information and liaising on their behalf with other key stakeholders in the field. I regret trusting these people expecting reciprocity with the same ohaoha accorded them. I found instead the opposite to be the case. What was useful to outsiders, initially, became superfluous even obstructive later on in their desire to dominate the very same field.
The narrative, from the outsider, usually involves pleasant introductions…
You will probably be surprised to hear from me, but I have been extremely interested in the exhibitions you have curated, and am hoping to do some research on contemporary art and debates about cultural identity in New Zealand, starting next year. This is not really the field my academic training is in, but I have been learning about it gradually, and hope to do so more intensively, particularly by interviewing some of the people whose work you included in “the Dream of Joseph” and “Whatu Aho Rua”...I will be coming to Auckland and Wellington next February, and would very much like to meet you then, and perhaps do an interview about your ideas on cross-cultural appropriations etc. and curatorial approaches, if that wouldn’t be too much of an imposition. I do hope we can exchange some ideas, and I’m grateful already for the very impressive and stimulating shows you have put together. 16 October 1992 'I think it would be most useful if I could talk to you first. I look forward to your comments on what I've written, and if you're not too busy I'd appreciate perhaps taping an interview dealing with your curatorial strategies both in [Te Moemoea] and Whatu Aho Rua. I hope I can make my whole project part of a process of exchange...' 6 February 1993
Correspondence, Nicholas Thomas, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, ANU, Canberra
THE PROGRAMME IN CONTEMPORARY ART AND CULTURE, led by Professor Nicholas Thomas, will explore the development of a wide range of indigenous and imported art traditions in the region, and will investigate the role of art as a domain for the expression of claims about place, history, and modernity...The Centre's program [The Centre for Cross-Cultural Research, ANU, Canberra] will have three distinctive features: We propose to approach histories and contemporary cultures comparatively, rather than through national or area-studies frames of reference...
I am not solely talking about outsiders to Aotearoa NZ. The greater threat has come from Māori and Pacific academics, curators and colleagues. In 2003 I attended a university award ceremony celebrating academic achievement for Māori doctorates. One of the leaders congratulated initiates saying, we now belonged to a “special club” providing “privileged access” to an elite world network of scholars and colleagues. On reflection, I think, teka ‘untruth’, quite the opposite. There is no club. There are no special openings. A PhD, while a wonderful and expensive (for the NZ taxpayer) exploration of a topic, for Māori and indigenous graduates, may simply put an even bigger poka pū ‘bulls eye’ on ones back.
Occupying roles with few professional openings or chances to expand, in a small country like Aotearoa NZ, tends to make the only available posts ineluctably desirable. People tend to reside in such positions, they may seek to re-locate to new more senior appointments, or they may be unceremoniously forced out by competitors. The academic post I last occupied in art history (1997-2007) was, for example, the only permanent, full-time position dedicated to Māori and Polynesian art history in Aotearoa. Toi tāhuhu ‘Māori art history’ is a specialist area indigenous, though not restricted, to New Zealand. There is no reason other such posts, involving such a singular focus, should or could be funded anywhere else in the world. Māori art curating, and its genesis within the New Zealand art gallery, is a similar novelty. The director of the Sarjeant Gallery, writing, on my behalf, to the Minister of the Arts in 1989, seemed clear on its lack of commonality. Rarity affords huge opportunity; it also creates intense expectation and enormous competition.
29 June 1989 ...The musuem profession is becoming increasingly aware, that while every effort is being made to increase the number of Māori people working in museums and art galleries with their taonga, those already employed are in many cases, quite young and working under considerable pressure and frequently in isolation. This is particularly so in Rangihiroa’s situation where he is the only Māori on our small staff, and is in fact, the only Māori working in a curatorial position in an art gallery in the whole of New Zealand... Bill Milbank, Director, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui
Against the background Milbank outlines (see previous link) I wanted to position the interest beginning to be shown in the area I was developing within the regional isolation of the Sarjeant. Years later this activity moved into the academic arena, more centrally, in Wellington and Tāmaki Makaurau. I will be looking at two specific examples of local competition with some reference to a third overseas connection (there are others, it’s just that these three are pertinent to this discussion).
Panoho with Vivieaere, Newtown flat, Wellington, 1994. The image being looked at is the fale fono constructed in the Sarjeant Gallery dome for ‘Te Moemoea no Iotefa’ 1990 (see below)
Iosua Anae, Filipo Leugaimafa, Pea’lo Iosefo, Hay Vagana under the supervision of Taliaoa Vao’luua inside the Dome. Asa Ta’ala from the Samoan community in Whanganui also provided help. Te Moemoea no Iotefa, 15 December 1990 – 3 March 1991, Sarjeant Gallery.
I had close connections with both Jim Vivieaere and Jonathan Mane. I counted Vivieaere as a friend. Early on I helped support, encourage and mentor him. This, at a time when he was not widely recognised as either an artist nor confident as a curator in Aotearoa in the late 1980s and early 1990s. My academic career was of added interest to Mane because he, like myself, was NZ Māori and an art historian. Trained in the Courtauld Institute of Art, London his specialist area was English Ecclesiastical architecture. His growing desire to branch out into the Māori area, later on, demanded, uneasily at times, complex moments of both support and determined intrusion. Early on there were requests to access my thesis work on Paratene Matchitt, (1988) and later on these involved a desire, I refused, to supervise my PhD (2003). I still possess copies of letters from Mane (Lecturer in Art History, Canterbury University) asking myself and others for my thesis, my research work and my exhibition materials. In 1988 a letter was sent, on my behalf, to Mane from the Māori Education Foundation (scholarship funding and co-owners of my Masters thesis),
I wrote to Rangi and said that you were interested in seeing a copy of it [i.e. the thesis] and would he mind if you borrowed our copy. Rangi wrote back saying that he would prefer it if you could contact him direct...(copy MEF correspondence to Mane, 3 May)
Assorted voices from 1988-2002 confirm an ongoing interest in the novelty of and the value placed in the research I was developing.
Mane was aware of this growing interest, the two theses, the commissioning of a book on Māori Art (Craftsman House, Australia 1992-2000, AUP 2002-2004) and the curatorial legacy. As early as 1988 a number of requests and confirmations were arriving at the Sarjeant, ‘Are catalogues…checklists, slides, photographs, documentation of these exhibitions available? I would dearly love to obtain copies‘ 14 June 1989. ‘I am very pleased to have received copies of these publications which I shall use in the course of my teaching‘ 11 July 1989. ‘Whoopee! I have permission to order the slide set of the Whatu Aho Rua exhibition.‘ 14 July 1989. There were offers to purchase my thesis, requests for photographic records, for catalogues from my Māori and later from my Pacific show, offers to provide an architectural component for a projected Māori art tour to the United States, offers to lecture, both at the Sarjeant and later at the University in which I taught, and the odd gallery visit.
17 Hanuere 1990 Did I tell you that I managed to see the [‘your’ – his parentheses regarding Whatu Aho Rua\Te Ao Maori] exhibition at the Dowse Art Gallery in its final day in November? Spent a long time there, and was very moved.
Around this time a very complex series of questions, regarding Māori art and Māori art exhibition histories, arrived at the Sarjeant via unusual, lengthy correspondence from Judith Hoult, Education Officer signing for the Director, Robert McDougall Gallery, Christchurch: ‘I am particularly concerned to document the institutional response to exhibiting Māori art, both traditional and contemporary, and [to] establish a chronology of exhibitions.’ Chronologies were also a particular interest in Mane’s work. Clearly, we shared areas of research focus but he himself did not at that stage occupy a curatorial position. My specialist focus in art history was Māori art, his was Victorian High Gothic Ecclesiastical Architecture.
Both Thomas and Mane were aware of my having been commissioned to write a book on Māori art. Thomas wrote me (6 February 1993), ‘I’m glad to hear particularly that you’re writing a book on contemporary Māori art‘. I heard back from a mentor overseas that there was indeed curiosity. Mane was publicly supportive of the publication of a book on Māori art, just not my book. It’s difficult to understand why, despite the ongoing interest in gaining access to the Māori curatorial and art historical research. An early indication of what this selective focus may have meant only came later in 1998 when our paths crossed at an AAG conference on Ralph Hotere. We were both presenting papers. I responded to Mane’s request to address my 2nd year course Maori and Polynesian Art (Friday afternoon 21 August) since we were both contributing to the same event the following day. However, I think Mane crossed a boundary when asking my students, ‘Who is going to write this new book on Māori art?’ A tauira from the back of the theatre responded, ‘Rangihīroa’. An adamant, ‘No’ followed. Mane added, he believed the book could only be a group effort. In that one statement, in front of my students, he identified himself as competitively engaged in the same pursuit (i.e. writing a book on Māori art). He requested, he talked, he admonished, he attempted his point of distinction as collective and in my course! I remember feeling quite shocked and hōha! Hei aha.
In an earlier post (MaC II) I offered my view on the continuation of this distinctive claim by colleagues with whom Mane did actually choose to work on a book on Māori art (Brown and Ellis with whom he had secured a major grant). Mane was a member and Chair, for a term, on the Marsden Council, Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Humanities Panel that awarded the funds. Somehow Mane’s belief he was writing toi tāhuhu ‘a new Māori art history’ the first unique Māori art history and the $643,000 grant, his position and his reputation raised, means his two colleagues have staked a claim in carrying on the same legacy in his name.
Mane’s more positive tautoko then (7 art gallery applications over nearly 4 years) was purposefully directed away from the book and the academic area of my work and towards the idea of getting me back into curating. While spasmodic the encouragement (unique at the time) to seek other employment was appreciated. His tone reads as helpful, generally buoyant (he could be personally critical as well) and persistent (Don’t forget that a directorship of a humbler regional gallery or museum can be a stepping stone to bigger and better things, 25 November 2009. This latest message from Museums Aotearoa has prompted me to enquire if you are on their mailing list. Jobs are coming up all the time and it’s always possible that some of them might take your fancy’, 3 February 2010).
The beginning of this support being offered was around the same time I was being given the boot and he was about to join the University of Auckland staff (this phase related to the end of his time as Director of Art at Te Papa, 2004-2009 and the beginning of his tenure as Director, Elam School of Fine Arts, UoA, 2009-2012). A pōwhiri signalled Mane’s triumphal arrival on UoA’s Waipapa mārae accompanied by colleagues and support staff from Te Papa Tongarewa. It drew me uneasily back to hongi departmental members who, just weeks prior, had forced me to sit in an abandoned, run down office separate and opposite the brand new Art History Department site, despite my full reinstatement (NZH 30 April 2008), while further legal action by the local tertiary institution was planned.
26 April 2009 Tena korua, e nga whanaunga I very much appreciated your presence at the powhiri on Monday despite the discomfort this may have caused you. I gather that I acknowledged you twice in my peroration...Once I have settled down at Elam I’d very much like to catch up with you. I hope things are working out for you and that the really rough patch is well and truly behind you. Professor Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, Director, Elam School of Fine Arts,UoA
Mane appeared to empathise with my struggles with UoA and their removal of me (not the position I occupied) in the Department of Art History. On one occasion he told my wife and I he thought this a great injustice and recounted how he told others so. He privately supported my difficult circumstances while the union undertook a lengthy and public legal battle with the Vice Chancellor. However, despite my wife and I writing many times to arrange the ‘catch-up’ promised he never responded.
Hei aha. I made sure, at his tangihanga, Piki te Aroha mārae, Rahiri settlement, that others (who also travelled north to pay their respects) understood my gratitude. He was a generous, generally diplomatic, colleague and his legacy and his contributions at Canterbury University, Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Papa and the Elam School of Fine Arts should rightly always be remembered.
r@ngihiroa, In Memorium, Mane-Wheoki, 2017
Getting out of art history was painful. Getting into art history was also laboured. In 1998, despite lengthy deliberations by the department, I had just secured a permanent Māori and Polynesian art history lectureship (both Ellis and Brown had also applied) at the University of Auckland. I had asked two people, one with a local and the other with an international reputation in the academic and in the arts community, for references. One was Head of a NZ art history department and the other Nicholas Thomas. Despite pledging support both proved duplicitous. Aside from a warm testimonial received from one other more senior overseas academic, the two previously mentioned referees requested confidentiality in their supplying intensely negative responses as to my experience and as to my suitability for the position and as to their opinions on my character. A colleague alluded to their presence. Only later was I able to access my personal file at the university and sight the references. It clarified immediately why (along with the ‘Headlands’ debate) the appointment had been so protracted and why people were so ambivalent about my joining the department. Deeply disappointing and a real shock.
Around the same time my involvement with Nicholas Thomas was scaling down. Communication no longer took the form of letters and interviews but more spasmodically brief postcard notes and the odd authored articles posted over the years.
Edward S. Curtis Zuni Woman Displaying Ornamental Jewellery Postcard, No date, c. early 1994 Dear Rangi, sorry we weren’t in touch again before leaving Auckland...I’ll be in Wellington for Under Capricorn [4 -6 March 1994] so hope to see you then – I’ve got $ for accommodation so no need to put me up...In Auckland, I talked to a number of people about the Walters debate [i.e. Headlands article] – I think there’s more support and understanding of your position than you realise – I plan to write something about it too. Best, Nicholas
Early on these notes contained hopeful comments, ngā kakano, that took on much less supportive and less understanding foci when they flowered in their published form: harsh critical coverage of my curating and muted commentary that left me out of any serious critical thinking. My ‘position’ in my Headlands essay, (the ‘Walters debate’) is purposefully given brief attention in Thomas’s planned text. ‘Kiss the Baby Goodbye: Kowhaiwhai and Aesthetics in Aotearoa New Zealand’ published in Critical Inquiry, Autumn 1995: 90-121, superficially covers the debate that grew out of my essay ‘Maori at the Centre: on the Margins.’ There is a major focus on the work of pākehā anthropologists Roger Neich and Allen Hanson with kōwhaiwhai. This may have had to do with the paper’s initial presentation at an American Anthropological Association conference. Then again his draft readers from New Zealand are all pākehā (English lecturer Dr Wystan Curnow, AAG curator William McAloon and including Gordon Walters himself).
There were just two acknowledgements of a Māori position in Thomas’s text. Both feel duplicitous in tone and both dubiously superficial in origin. One is the curious employment of Selwyn Murupaenga (described as artist\activist) who supposedly voices homage to Walters (sounds prompted, never a key theme voiced by this artist) giving the koru international status. If you look for the context of the quote it is attributed to wine critic Keith Stewart and is part of a particularly vicious personal attack by himself (see another view of this ‘catalogue of insults’), and a long list of aggrieved others, on my essay. That Thomas unfortunately chose a lightweight Māori informant (having spent so much of his text focussing on the pākehā experts and receiving advice from pākehā New Zealanders) is confirmed by all sorts of misunderstandings and vitriol the Stewart article generated at that time. The New Zealand Broadcasting Tribunal (after around 9 months of our legal prompting), for example, forced Radio New Zealand to publicly apologise to me for inaccurate and misleading reportage of my Headlands essay. They had based reportage on Stewart’s opinion rather than checking my actual essay. Thomas knew the source he was referencing was not authoritative in the same way Radio New Zealand knew their broadcaster had created an unfair synopsis of my views and had relied on an inaccurate secondary source.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by Radio New Zealand Ltd of an item on the Maori News on 15 July 1993 breached standards R1 and R5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make an order under s.13(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Because of the failure of the item to represent Mr Panoho's views fairly, the resulting injustice to him and the inordinate delay in responding to his formal complaint, the Authority has decided to impose an order on this occasion. Order Pursuant to s.13(1)(d) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders Radio New Zealand Ltd to broadcast a brief summary of this decision, approved by the Authority. The statement shall be broadcast during the news in Maori within 14 days of the date of this decision. Iain Gallaway, Chairperson, 18 April 1994
The other ‘Māori’ reference in Thomas’s article, kept right at the end of the lengthy coverage, was an image of a sculptural work by rangatahi artist Michael Parekowhai. It was a fun, nicely executed and non-committal quotation of Walters’ koru rethought in sculptural terms. Every time I see the Duchamp inspired ready-made it reminds me, not of the Walters debate but, of hundreds of eager art history and design school students in New Zealand institutions trotting out essays on appropriation. There seemed a particular delight in demonstrating how smart Parekowhai was settling the score with his final addition to his Walters homage: the full stop, lower right corner. What might students think if someone confided that, like the bull on the piano, the dot meant nothing in particular: and that sadly no new counter-cultural quip had taken place?
In Thomas’s essay I am carefully kept marginal, inconsequential due to brevity, to the main text. Footnote number 9 notes:
‘Panoho’s relatively brief discussion prompted a peculiarly intense backlash…’
Thomas made an effort to travel north of Auckland to discuss the issue. I was very unhappy about this treatment of the debate in the article and told him so. It was not a comfortable exchange for either of us and that, I think, was the last time I saw the anthropologist who had declared himself one who did not wish to impose.
Swish goes the toreo’s cloak. The bull paws the bloody dust of the arena, his horns drop. Tercio de muerte. In that frightening moment it is as if the crowd with one breath gasps. Is it possible they imagine empathy for his fate?
My involvement then with Mane and Thomas demonstrates the complexity of the politics that surrounds competitive academic and curatorial research in Aotearoa NZ. As the human geographer David Storey initially noted, we do indeed…‘live in a highly territorialized world…involving the staking of claims…and the deployment of territorial strategies.’ Nothing is as it seems both with individuals and with institutions.
The opening night for Te Moemoea at the Auckland Art Gallery back in 1991 should have been an important celebration for the Pacific community. Pacific artists and Pacific communities were being endorsed collectively for the first time by one of the more prestigious art museums in the country. Vivieaere briefly turned up. At that stage I no longer belonged to an institution (I had left the Sarjeant and I had completed my contract with the AAG). The shift may have made him feel more comfortable voicing his caution. He confided that people connected with the show (he never elaborated) resented the promotion I was receiving. Only a couple of years later did it become clearer to me there may indeed have been an institutional problem with my profile as well. In 1997 Te Papa Press produced Speaking in colour: Conversations with artists of Pacific Island heritage. Heavily reliant, both in its design and in its content, on my Te Moemoea catalogue (same artists in the same interview format and some of the same artworks used or referenced in Te Moemoea including two key Vivieaere works in my own collection) it was a larger, more substantially resourced book. The commonalities may have been unavoidable. Others in the profession seemed to see Te Moemoea and its publication, in their time, as possessing a particular kind of impact:
Dear Rangihiroa...Congratulations on your wondrous exhibition and wonderful publication. Many, many people have told me how much they enjoyed the exhibition and publication. I so wish I could see your show. I greatly admire the publication. It is very exciting...You have achieved something landmark. Something that, perhaps, some colleagues are much surprised by. Not me! I’ve always believed known that you would make a significant contribution to the arts. More so in the future...’ Ronald Brownson, Senior Curator, NZ and Pacific Art, Auckland Art Gallery, 19 February 1991
The Te Papa and Auckland Museum Pacific curators Mallon and Pereira, relatively recent appointments themselves, responsible for Speaking in Colour had carefully edited me out of the main text. Despite diverse professional connections with gallery and arts community people, other artists and other mentors being widely quoted by the artists throughout the text, only in the bibliography, at the back of their publication am I named. In all other cases, where Te Moemoea is mentioned, only the Sarjeant is acknowledged as curator.
If I was a representative of the gallery space with which Vivieaere and others struggled the only tangible discomfort I ever encountered, voiced by those involved with Te Moemoea, was the demand, from one senior artist, all Pacific artists (there were a number of palagi) be paid a commission for showing their work at each venue. After discussing the matter with my director, I wrote this person clarifying the pioneering nature of a show (i.e. marginal awareness, on the part of the NZ public regarding most of the artists involved). For this reason alone the demand was unreasonable but more importantly it was unworkable in the New Zealand environment. Te Moemoea was entirely reliant on the goodwill of other artists and collectors (both palagi and Pacific), the arts and Pacific communities, local council support and central government sponsorship.
Apart from this particular incident the only unease I increasingly began to feel, after leaving the profession, seemed to be coming from Vivieaere. He was heavily reliant on support and encouragement for the radical transition into curatorship from outside the profession. Even after Milbank and I had recommended him to John Leuthart at the New Zealand Arts Council and after I had abdicated interest in continuing my curatorial career in the Pacific area (i.e. no longer a threat) something was not quite right. We continued to have long telephone conversations, correspondence and meetings about his reservations and his insecurity about doing ‘the curatorial thing’. A trip to the first Asia\Pacific triennial (Brisbane’s claim to key cultural ownership to contemporary art in Asia\Pacific as a regional concern) in 1993 seemed a threshold moment. It was the beginning of a broader vision for Pacific curating particularly in relation to the Asian context which was, I believe, a very important and not well understood source of interest and impoetus in his work.
Dear Rangihiroa, I’ve just returned from being sent by Exhibitour, John Leuthart [Creative New Zealand] to Brisbane. “The First Asia-Pacific of Contemporary Art Triennial.” A 4 day spin, and a perk and a good movie... I’ve accidentally got two transcripts of Jonathan Mane-Wheoki’s speech [a negative presentation of my views in the Headlands debate over cross-cultural appropriation] which I am speeding to you, because you’re in it, not to offend you or any other reason. The experience [i.e. Asia\Pacific triennial] has given me a resoluteness toward this curating job, and generated good ideas. I’ll send you my rationale/vision...’ Jim Vivieaere, Mt Albert, 23 September 1993
I caught up with Vivieaere on a couple of occasions prior to and after his passing in 2011. I think he was a very private, deflective type of person. ‘I like the communing with the Gods as a private discourse that doesn’t need to be disclosed’(correspondence 15 October 2010). I often viewed this penchant for privacy and non-disclosure as an extension of a lifelong involvement with Taoist thought and movement. This area opened up to include, I think, the curating and the statements about the imbalance of spaces like the gallery and the museum and the uncoordinated feel of a living Pacific community of which he felt a part, ‘…and the narrow opening – a vision of a[n] imagined Pacific Island world – through which the work is admitted to a public space’ (The Island Race in Aotearoa, 1997). This particular quote was part of a longer A4 statement, Vivieaere proudly gifted me on one of a number of brief flit visits, over a decade, to the Departmental office on Symonds Street. He would often breeze in after one of his many overseas trips to gossip and promote his vision of Pacific art. I felt there was comraderie.
Vivieaere did not seem to physically reside in space so much as to move through it. He always seemed elegantly in transition to me. I like to think of his art in the same way and it is probably fitting that a Vivieaere artwork 6 Tahitians, a collage, now features centre-stage as a structural device connecting the key players in this essay. Mane, Viveaere and Thomas all played a role in allowing me to trade a taonga (i.e. the collage), from the past in which they all had, at times been strongly involved, so I could move on with new areas in my life.
The mat, a Mark Adams photo (part of collaborative research with Haruhiko Sameshima, myself and the Te Rarawa mārae – 15 January 1994) has provenance based in Aotearoa’s premier proto-Polynesian site Tāngonge, south-west of Kaitaia. It was here that the Kaitaia Gateway was revealed to the Te Aupōuri whānaunga Muru Hori Walters in 1920 while drain digging. See my book MAORI ART for Pukepoto kaumatua Ross Gregory’s account of the Tahitian connection (Panoho, 2015: 220-221). I think Vivieaere might have quibblingly approved while the Pushkin may not.
6 Tahitians was created and gifted out of a dialogue between the artist and myself in his studio space nearby on New North Rd, Mt Albert. Proudly owned by my family then, as a result of my getting the boot from the UoA and the lack of broader collegial interest from Te Papa, reluctantly sold to Nicholas Thomas, director, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge University. The lengthy process of negotiation with MoA, Cambridge also involved me finally catching up with Mane at John Gow Gallery. He had been chosen by the UK Art Fund organisation as their nominee to vouch for the authenticity of the work and to affirm its condition as outlined in a report by the AAG conservationists. Mane was himself nearing the end of his life, he talked briefly about his terminal cancer, and his time at UoA was coming to a close. Strangely then Vivieaere’s work, brought collector, artist, authenticator and owner together in a moment of time.
What began as a gift became, with Vivieaere’s prior knowledge and permission, a trade item.
Auckland 4/10/90 Dear Adrianne and Rangihiroa, It actually dawned on me as you were watching the Russian Prostitutes [doc] that you had given up your BED for our comfort, and to protest would have been ungracious; and doing the laundry the next morning was just a feeble gesture. I'm giving you my "6 x Tahitians" for your house and as an acknowledgement of your hospitality and our contact. Arohanui, Jim VIVIEAERE and Agnes NIEHORSTER,
I later described the beautiful little work 6 Tahitians in a letter to a curator requesting the collage (involving a colour xeroxed Gauguin painting and a nineteenth century Papeete postcard layered together on a pandanus mat) for a Wellington show. In that e-mail exchange I talked about my last conversation with Vivieaere centering around a plant gifted him – a Rarotongan banana from Aotea, Kaipara ki Tonga.
The letter was as follows:
29 June 2011 I don’t think anything changes the need for people to want to belong and [to] feel a sense of belonging that involves commonalities as identified by a group. Not long before he died Jim and I had a conversation centred around this issue of appropriation, borrowing and I suppose ethnicity. I had to leave suddenly and he made a point of singling out this particular kaupapa before I went. It concerned a series of works he had leaning on the sitting-room wall...His response, regarding what he was doing in his work, reminded me of the same kind of complex distancing...going on in ‘6 Tahitians’. That assemblage grew out of comments I made when I visited [his] studio space in Mt Albert [13 July 1990]...I told him I liked various components (separate pieces - a postcard and a Gauguin reproduction...brought along with this specific purpose of assemblage). He [chose his own Gauguin image and] put them together as a koha at the time. The [later] works in the Grey Lynn space involved a banana flower that he wanted to make a point about. He said he had used parts of the pod in a whole range of works (to print with and the torn skin [padded bright red skin protecting the juvenile fruit] as a component). I found this amusing...because there was a scarcity [with] the source (it was from a single banana tree I had transplanted for him from my Kaipara property to his Newton home...and one that he was [no longer] able to move or [to] gain access to). The tree and the banana flower had Rarotongan provenance [and a proto Polynesian connection that I knew he valued]! Jim said to me, “I have used that flower in so many different ways. But I’ve never used the motifs"[this seemed important]. That was the last time I saw Jim before he passed away.’ Reply, Panoho to Reuben Friend regarding a loan request for 6 Tahitians from the City Gallery, Wellington
Vivieaere left the last line, recounted here, to the last possible moment of our kōrero. Conversation had been deliberately chit chatish. We looked out on his daughter’s lush Grey Lynn villa backyard, he made a point of showing me a diary full with upcoming appointments and his distinctive calligraphic scrawl as people came to pay their respects. Before I hugged his fragile body and we said our goodbyes he dropped the comment about the banana flower.
I think he was trying to express loyalty to our connection. I would like to think he was saying he had used the curatorial trade, we shared, in a multitude of ways. The Rarotongan banana pod flower was a metaphor for the value he felt in Pacific essence not surface. This reference involved a space, like the sea, whose boundaries:
cannot be bottled
cannot be owned
cannot be fought over
cannot be appropriated.
The space Jim V. was alluding to was one where he felt he was on the edge of becoming…intangible.
Provenance: relative of the Rarotongan banana, from Aotea, South Head gifted and planted for VIVIEAERE at Newton.
MĀORI art CURATOR. MĀORI at the CENTRE: on the MARGINS
Unpublished responses to the Headlands debate as the MaC journey continues…