Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.
Voltaire, letter to M. le Riche, 6 February 1770
Headlands is such an exquisitely uncomfortable exhibition that it may not prove popular. But it should be seen, both for the quality of the works and for the way it reveals a darker but more interesting side to our nearest neighbours.
Joanna Mendelssohn, New Views of NZ, The Bulletin, 21 April 1992: 104
Black music has very often been stolen and co-opted by white people. But there is a complexity to the story of the blues. Early blues records had vanished by the 1950s. They were disposable things on their way to being forgotten completely. And it was a coterie of white collectors who rescued them from oblivion. Now there are problems with the white taste for the authentic, and the patronizing way that some of the old bluesmen were dug up and exhibited as authentic primitives.
Hari Kunzru interview with Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson ‘Sjón’, BOMB, 15 May 2017
White man, hear me! History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations. And it is with great pain and terror one begins to realize this. In great pain and terror one begins to assess the history which has placed one where one is and formed one’s point of view. In great pain and terror because, therefore, one enters into battle with that historical creation, Oneself, and attempts to recreate oneself according to a principle more humane and more liberating; one begins the attempt to achieve a level of personal maturity and freedom which robs history of its tyrannical power, and also changes history. But, obviously, I am speaking as an historical creation which has had bitterly to contest its history, to wrestle with it, and finally accept it in order to bring myself out of it.’
James Baldwin, ‘White Man’s Guilt’, Ebony, August 1965
Headlands aimed to present an overview of New Zealand art which opened up ways of thinking, extended knowledge, and shifted this knowledge into new possibilities of awareness. By building on pre-existing notions of the culture and art of New Zealand, this exhibition reflected and reconsidered those judgements, presenting new ideas, and re-presenting the familiar in a new context.
Museum of Contemporary Art statement, MCA, Sydney web site, accessed 20 December 2017
I have been thinking through Baldwin’s comments. With the past everpresent, musing over HEADLANDS, its many responses, over the decades, means contesting less helpful frames of history many critics have sought to impose and reiterate but seldom to revise. American writer Susan Sontag once confided, ‘Reading criticism clogs conduits through which one gets new ideas: cultural cholesterol.’For me various reactions to, not so much my 1992 essay (‘Maori at the Centre, On the Margins…’ for HEADLANDS, MCA, Sydney) but rather to, its authorship, constitute ongoing cultural constriction. Too much has been written, is still being written about me rather than the eleven paragraphs (of a more broadly positioned essay) I penned.
‘Reading criticism clogs conduits through which one gets new ideas: cultural cholesterol.’Susan Sontag diary 1964
It would be difficult, unnecessary even, to fractionally respond to these critiques when references to arguments in my HEADLANDS essay have become something of a diversion. Like ‘true north’ its’ position exists in that direction over there: like the angle that one might point one’s house to capture the sun. Immediately after my PhD examination, 2003 novelist Witi Ihimaera (part of the examination panel) breezily described this compass point as a pragmatic reference. The essay he said was one of his points of bearing, out there, on the periphery. For me the edginess of Ihimaera’s remark has deeper resonance. ‘Maori at the Centre…’ has been impaled, muted and neutered. It doesn’t argue back. It mostly offers up a couple of oft-quoted phrases obediently receiving endless re-inscription. If anyone has difficulty understanding this controversial treatment ask the text – it saw it all: monologues not discussions, soliloquy not dialogue and silence from, not debate with, the protagonists.
DEBATE: ‘A formal discussion on a particular matter in a public meeting...in which opposing arguments are put forward...’ Oxford Dictionary
So after a quarter of a century, other than four interventions, of being forced to listen to others’ curatorial criticism (i.e. the selection of what to celebrate) and to others’ editorial criticism (repeated assertions), a few things beg clarification. In a 2017 catalogue on Gordon Walters (one of the artists referenced in my 1992 essay) contributing authors, curator Amy Hammonds and architectural historian Deidre Brown, make some authoritative claims. Hammonds works for DPAG, the custodian of the Gordon Walters collection. As with Sue Crockford, the late Francis Pound’s partner, and many other individuals and institutions, both dealing in or collecting the art and offering commentary, Hammonds has enormous vested interest in in championing the career of this artist. She claims, ‘It was in the wake of the survey exhibition [i.e. its commercial and professional success] that negative responses to Walters’ use of Māori subject matter began to appear’.
rangihīroa, Spike, 2018
Firstly, I think New Zealanders involved in, or interested in the arts, would benefit from the concept that disagreement with an idea neither means a negative position has been advanced nor that disrespect to a senior artist has been enacted. Much of my lifelong specialist Māori involvement with the appropriation issue shares common ground with those promoting Walters’ work and research. I possess a sincere desire to clarify the process of cross cultural dialogue. However, I am also dedicated to investigating the consequences of any philosophical position (i.e. the determinedly formalist position) that undermines toi tāhuhu: the visual legacy and heritage of an indigenous people. Continue reading “MaC V HEADLANDS: unpublished responses”
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.
Rangihīroa Panoho 2016-2021. 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 express permission. Details for writing to Rangihīroa are as follows:
The opinions expressed are mine and not those of former employers or industry colleagues.
A U G U S T U S H A M I L T O N
104 years on: the book
that is always open
The following entry is an updated version of an article written for a LinkedIn audience in 2013 after documenting the Christ Church yard, Russell with Mark Adams. We were returning to Tāmaki, 22 September 2013, after photographing the Kaitaia Gateway (photo: Mark Adams, Pihirau collection), in Te Ahu Heritage Museum, Kaitaia for MAORI ART . I realised I needed this essay as a point of reference in the ‘Future Flowerings’ essay, MAORI ART Curator II so I have decided to publish it ahead of schedule. This essay helps explain the longer legacy of trying to write a history of Māori art and it has within it a range of lessons for current generations of writers wanting to write Māori art. It could be considered an extension of ideas covered in ‘Future Flowerings’ and Bulls and Territory This post on the pioneering Dominion Museum ethnologist helps better prepare the ground for a discussion regarding intellectual/curatorial territory and the ongoing delineation of space in the Polynesian Art/museum world – the focus of the next post: MaC V Headlands: unpublished responses
Down the end of a central access path to one of New Zealand’s oldest surviving ecclesiastical buildings – Christ Church, Kororāreka – resides a plump, largely unadorned, funerary stone. Its two simple bronze plaques facing the path remember Augustus Hamilton, (1853-1913). He died a century ago in the summer months researching church records in the North. The kohatu sits as if on outdoor museum display duty. Its own pedestal reminds the viewer a tribute worthy of study lies above. 5 carefully machined marble blocks hold the massive weight. A plaque in English reads indifferently to another in te reo below – the predicament of translation. The Māori text sits horizontally on the face of a plinth block facing out towards the path. The English plaque describes the deceased ‘Director of the Dominion Museum, Wellington, [as] ‘An Eminent Student of Māori Lore, A lover of Nature, an Earnest Seeker after Truth.’
Michael Illingworth, portrait of Augustus Hamilton, bronze statue five years before the ethnologists death in 1908. Behind Hamilton are kōwhaiwhai images reproduced in his voluminous Art Workmanship of the Māori Race
Hamilton’s grave is central foreground. Far left is a memorial to loyalist Hokianga rangatira Tamati Waaka Nene. Although Hamilton died at the early age of 50 (while researching in Northland) this particular, now relatively remote, graveyard seems an entirely appropriate resting place for the scientist with a passion for Māori art. Local Māori gifting the land in the early nineteenth century required the church cemetery allow for the burial of both Māori and Pākehā alongside one another. One can pick out the resting place in White’s image. Follow its perspectival entry point leading along the path to the west face of the church. In the left background of the image sits the slightly rough, pocked top edge of Hamilton’s grave. It is positioned against another pou whakamaharatanga ‘memorial.’ A lofty Celtic medieval cross emblazoned with the nomina sacra IHS – the Greco Roman abbreviation for Jesus – stands out. It is dedicated to prominent nineteenth century Hokianga rangatira Tamati Waka Nene.
The Mark Adams photograph below details the accidental connection between the two. Is it perhaps more the interest of the eye behind the lens that sets up a dialogue. His view is at right angles to that of White and deliberately explores the different visual dynamic aesthetic in the two memorials from very different eras. In contrast to the vertical of Nene’s cenotaph Hamilton’s colleagues selected a more rustic block low to the ground. There is no religious iconography only the bronze text that celebrates a great man. The graves seem odd visual neighbours.
If Nene’s gravestone is the tallest in the yard Hamilton’s feels the most voluminous and textural. It also stands out because it features an odd rustic appreciation of natural materials in a colonial churchyard that celebrates very conservatively crafted marble. It is different from the other older conventionally designed shapes planted in thin, weather-worn slabs of marble. By contrast it’s surface is largely unmodified apart from its face, its reverse and its plinthe. The stone still looks as if it has just been hewn from its rockface. Marks showing its original surface have been left on its top and its side faces. These tell-tale signs, commissioned by members from the New Zealand Institute who funded the funerary stone, seem part of the intended impression. Hamilton was a great man. Hamilton was a New Zealander. Hamilton was someone whose monumental achievements are foundational. Like the rock, his legacy will stand the test of time.
Not coincidentally the grave is located in Kororāreka near Ōkiato ‘Old Russell’, the earliest capital of New Zealand (1840-1841). This is a fiercely nationalistic site. Although the intentions of those who gifted its land are clear the site seems to speak another narrative. It bears the wounds of Māori and Pākehā differences within its white picketed fence boundary. There are signs…
…both outside and inside the church, within speaking distance of Nene’s grave, that colonial rule was extremely fragile, and at times violently contested, as in Ngā Pakanga Whenua o Mua and the Northern Wars 1845/1846. A number of Māori and Pākehā died defending Kororāreka from ancestral cousins Kawiti and Heke and their sacking of the small town in 1845. The church was one of three protected by attackers. Ironically the church commemorates in a plaque within sailors who died defending the site. Visitors can, and still do, quizzically poke fingers into the musket ball holes (above image) that pock the weatherboard walls of the protected heritage church. As with other sites like ominous Ruapekapeka, involving powerful Northern leaders like Kawiti, it doesn’t take much to imagine the resistance. Despite the symbolic presence of Nene guarding Christ Church today this was not an early, uncontested seat of colonial power.
There is as much point trying to ignore Hamilton’s funerary rock at Christ Church as there is his publication Art Workmanship of the Māori Race. Many books on Māori art have not performed as well as that by Hamilton. I have watched a number suffer the indignity of the bargain bin. However, it would appear that Art Workmanship of the Māori Race continues to be a collectable classic even after more than a century since its original publication. I have a copy myself, one of a number of reprints by Holland Press in London. It was a koha ‘gift’ from colleagues at NYU where I was running a couple of workshops in conjunction with the Departments of Anthropology and Film and Religion. It still carries the label within it, ‘Oceanic Primitive Arts 88 East 10th Street.’ Were he alive Hamilton might well be chuffed. There is an awareness of his work even in the Atlantic facing Big Apple.
It is still the largest book yet produced on Māori art. It continues to dominate its territory as a benchmark. It is some 439 pages long. Its page dimensions are 312 x 243 mm. It has in its original published form red cloth boards with gilt Maori design on spine and front board. It has 65 plates (including 7 in red and black of rafter patterns). It is not unusual to see original books carrying inscriptions indicating gift presentation.
Books on Māori art and Māori artists though, from the turn of the twenty first century, also appear to be getting bigger and more lavish. Mark Amery makes some interesting points regarding the effort by the Christchurch Gallery to market The Hanging Sky: Shane Cotton. Interestingly the writer who questions the mural sized images by the Māori artist in the show praises the scale of the book as a better way of seeing or experiencing the artists work. It’s specifications are proudly outlined – ‘192 pp., hardback, foil-stamped cloth cover, blue edge page edges, 72 full colour plates, 390 x 294 mm; weight 4.10 kg.’ I can vouch for the last measurement when I tried to lift the publication from its perch on an Auckland Gallery bookshop shelf a few years back. To put the Cotton book in perspective, although its page dimensions are larger, it is more than half the size of Hamilton’s work.
New Zealand institutions and a number of overseas museums have now curated large complex and important landmark exhibitions of Māori art. Te Māori was one such pioneering exhibit in both its prestigious American and New Zealand museum venues. I mentioned, in the last essay, Taikaka Anake Kohia ‘contemporary’ Māori art exhibition in the early 1990s referencing size (i.e. the largest), as a marketable point of difference. Eventually some institution is going to create a bigger, larger publication on the artform. However, the important issue (in case there is concern with this focus on scale) is not so much the size of the thing as the foundational nature of Hamilton’s original work. His publication remains a starting point.
In 1913 the ethnologist HD Skinner in his obituary to Hamilton in the ‘Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand’ made an important claim. It may very well help explain a legacy of aesthetics and formalism that has hitherto not been fully understood in its New Zealand context. Skinner describes this formalist bias as deliberate, admirable and even scientific.
Hamilton was, Skinner said,
…a collector and systematizer…of objects throwing light on the life, industry, and art of the ancient Maori...In a stimulating chapter on Maori art, Max Hertz affirms it the chief defect in Hamilton’s work that he advanced no theory as to its origin or affinities. But in truth this avoidance of all theory was one of his greatest merits. It is not rash to say that the bulk of the writings on Maori ethnology have been warped by the influence of preconceived theory. It needed strength of purpose to resist an influence which thus flowed in from every quarter. Hamilton knew that facts enough had not yet been recorded to form the basis of scientific theory, and he resolutely set himself to the accumulation of facts. It is from such a groundwork that students of the future will be able to venture with some certainty into the region of hypothesis.
Augustus Hamilton’s collection of Maori artifacts on display at the Napier Athenaeum. Early 1880s. Collection: National Library of New Zealand
Image as re-produced small almost a footnote) by Dr Roger Neich in his book CARVED HISTORIES: Rotorua Ngāti Tarawhai Woodcarving, AUP, 2001: 215
Neich had a lot to say about Hamilton beginning with his Masters thesis on Ngāti Tarawhai carving. Often one finds the author in his theses and subsequent writing remarking on Hamilton’s patronage of Māori Art. Hamilton, Neich believed, viewed himself as an expert and as the authority on Maori Art. I discuss aspects of this directed legacy (i.e. cultural paternalism) in MAORI ART: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory.
I share with Skinner an acknowledgement of the foundational nature of what Hamilton created in his work on Māori art. I have difficulties with the substance of Hamilton’s thesis but I accept that it was pioneering work and that it has been influential. Importantly one can only admire the scale of Hamilton’s vision. He was ambitious for Māori art at a time when few others had the drive to seek such an understanding or made any kindred attempt to accumulate, centralise and control a growing national collection of Māori material. This energy and commitment gave the former Director of the Dominion Museum the right to try to establish a foundational narrative.
Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) once said of his Espozione Missionaria exhibition of indigenous objects (including sacred taonga from the Pacific in the Vatican collection) that it:
...is and will remain like a great, an immense book; every object is a page, a phrase, a line in this book…the Espozione Missionaria will close, but the furnishings will not disperse, they will remain as the Museo Missionario, as a school, as a book, which is always open.
Hamilton’s book, and the vigorous curatorship that drove it, continues to remain open, available and collectable.
Next Post: Looks at the debate that generated around New Zealands export to MCA, Sydney – the Headlands exhibition and its 1992 accompanying catalogue
As promised this is a memoir looking at two key figures read as central in Māori academic and Pacific curatorial history in this country as MaC V: Headlands unpblished responsesas Māori Art Curator continues.
Every artform in the world springs from its local puna ‘fount’. Toi Tāhuhu [new Māori art history] is no exception. It involves the study of visual objects flowing from tataara te puna o Hawaiki…
Dr Rangihīroa Panoho, Maori Art, History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory, Batemans, 2015: 25
‘Toi Te Mana. A History of Indigenous Art from Aotearoa New Zealand’. This seeks to write the first comprehensive history of Māori art and investigate the relationships, continuities and commonalities between the art of the ancestors and their descendants using specially-developed art history and Kaupapa Māori methodologies.
Dr Ngarino Ellis, UoA
We are familiar with studies within Māori art history on meetinghouses, tā moko…Your book is in dialogue with a lot of your mentors, other art historians who have written about Māori art or who have commented on it in a way that has influenced its history. I thought the book was ahistorical, and absolutely brilliant in those terms, but was so much more…I thought it was an artist’s philosopher’s book. It is not just what you have written, it is what you have made.
Dr Peter Brunt, VUW, discussing Rangihīroa Panoho’s’Maori Art’ at ‘Writing Maori Art’, City Gallery, Wellington
...[Toi te Mana]will set an international precedent as the first comprehensive indigenous art history created by and with indigenous peoples, and aims to help redefine art history in a global context.
Dr Diedre Brown, UoA
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Māori museum and gallery appointments included: Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Waikato Museum’s first Māori curator, in 1987. Te Warena Taua, assistant ethnologist at Auckland Museum, in 1989. Paora Tapsell, curator at the Rotorua Museum of Art and History, in 1990. Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, first curator Māori of Christchurch’s Robert McDougall Art Gallery, in 199.
Dr Paul Tapsell, ‘Māori and museums – ngā whare taonga – Increasing Māori involvement in museums, 1987 to 2000, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of NZ, 22 October 2014
One way ‘taste’ is articulated to the public is a careful rewriting of histories. Here it is not what is said that is of importance but rather that which is not. More particularly that which is deliberately left unsaid, or those people that are deliberately left out, is equally important. The unsaid is muted counterpoint and in Aotearoa ignoring, blocking, ridiculing, editing out, cutting off (whether blatantly or subtly) increasingly becomes the normal way of dealing with anyone deemed outside the group, anyone deemed to be professional competition, anyone perceived to be exploring narratives outside those endorsed or approved by the prevailing institution(s).
It was rather a shock at Jonathan Mane-Wheoki’s tangi at Piki Te Aroha mārae 19 October 2014 to hear an Auckland academic announce a new Māori art history was being written and would soon be published. The surprise had nothing to do with the $635,000 award gained from a research fund originally led and secured by Mane-Wheoki (with Brown and Ellis). Rather, it was the claim being made so openly by Dr Peter Shand, Jonathan’s successor at Elam School of Fine Arts, that something was entirely new simply because a privileged clique had decided that this was so. When Shand made his announcement my book Māori Art: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory was just nine months away from publication.
Since its launch, 11 June 2015, the only thing the book has not received is public recognition from some quarters of academia. Brown (an architectural historian) and Ellis (who trained in law) can pretend Maori Art doesn’t exist and that somehow by employing, ‘specially-developed art history and Kaupapa Māori methodologies’ they are tilling new soil. Both a recent University of Victoria conference importantly remembering Mane-Wheoki and a Te Papa post rather hopefully note (I reference the latter here), for example, that, ‘Toi Te Mana…promises to rewrite Māori art history since 1840, giving it both a scholarly foundation and increased public accessibility.’
Underneath all the semantics (i.e. about Maaaori methodologies, specially developed indigeneity and scholarly foundation, specially self-selected committees that selectively apportion approval and dish out public funding, public access) and promises the same old plant is being cultivated with the hope that grafting branches and re-naming the same old tree is going to grow something new. The Brown and Ellis claims have no substance and they and their backers’ efforts to re-market and dress up the same art history (or worse wreck it and put it under another discipline) are not altruistic but rather about gatekeeping. Renaming or re-branding the same old research and the same old concepts will not make the plant grow or flower other than it always has. Toi Tāhuhu (i.e. what I have already described in my pioneering 1988 and 2003 theses and in my 2015/2018 book as Māori art history – see definition above) is neither new nor ‘emerging’. It has already been seeded. It has already been grown. It has already been written and celebrated a number of times in the very same institution now making this fictitious claim.
I say ‘celebrated’ and acknowledged because that is what theses submission, graduation and recognised teaching, research and professing in the field signifies. I began my tertiary studies in Art History in 1980 because I was passionate about Māori art. I didn’t realise my research, exhibitions and lately my publication was going to pose such a threat. The University of Auckland, to which Shand, Brown and Ellis all belong, is the same place in which I trained and in which I later lectured. It is the same institution that knew about the ground-breaking work (MA Matchitt thesis, 1988/PhD ‘Maori Art in Continuum’ thesis, 2003) I had been conducting on Māori art decades before my successors published and long before they concocted their fable about inventing something new from a uniquely Māori or indigenous point of view. Let me refresh their memory. Here’s Auckland Museum ethnologist Dr Roger Neich, co-supervisor of the PhD thesis ‘Māori Art in Continuum’, advising UoA in 2003 that:
That was 2003 and it can be safely assumed that back then I was covering much the same ground (i.e. Toi Tāhuhu) currently being claimed by people working in the specialist field (I will look more closely at their ambitious claims in an upcoming post) I helped pioneer, research, curate, teach and write. As to the question of whether Maori Art needs the endorsement of an institution like UoA or its research gatekeepers. It looks to me like the work (i.e. the PhD) has already been achieved and endorsed (by the institution and also by others). That matapuna in turn has fed into an even bigger awa – the book. Neich’s comment in his report was that, in his opinion, the candidate was, ‘…demonstrating that he is critically reviewing and developing his ideas [i.e. in alignment with his supervision]’. I am confident this refinement developed further with the translation of theses, and other avenues of research, into my discussion of Toi Tāhuhu within 2016/2018 book.
It’s also a bit hard to not acknowledge other members of the museum, literary and academic world responding, in public forums, so supportively to the publication. On 3 October 2016 Toi Tāhuhu was openly assessed at ‘Writing Māori Art’, City Gallery, Wellington by curators Robert Leonard and Megan Tamati-Quennell and Victoria University art historian Dr Peter Brunt along with a local arts community audience. Even Jenny Harper, Director, Christchurch Art Gallery (along with the other judges including Maia Nuku, Associate Pacific curator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY) acknowledged the international award Maori Art received. The book has experienced favourable and, at times, unfavourable critical reviews and regardless they are all openly viewable and publicly acknowledged. Leonard’s comment introducing the book to the Wellington audience of ‘Writing Māori Art’ helps clarify what all this polarising (i.e. the approving/ disapproving) may mean. His mihi reads well with Okiri’s initial challenge that sometimes we must tell ourselves stories we may not like but which we must nonetheless acknowledge:
But what is it then that some in the New Zealand arts community have such difficulty contending with? At least two responses from the floor (‘Writing Māori Art’, City Gallery) that night may help clarify the discontent. Sculptor Shona Rapira-Davies and Curator/writer Derek Schulz respectively (both observers of my work for two or more decades) responded:
There are other Māori art writers…but they wrote from [within] a European paradigm. This is the first time…you wrote it from the interior out. And such a thing…is so risky and very frightening and I see you there and I see you being pummelled. But also understand the fulcrum is where you were at and where you are still. It is a place where not many people like to be because it is easy for other people to shoot you. But in order for the rest of us to understand a little bit more about the interior that is Māori somebody has to take the shots for that because it’s a completely different view from what is normally viewed as art history.
Shona Rapira-Davies, sculptor
Rangi’s work comes out of a very turbulent era of New Zealand cultural history. The two cultures started to separate and that was precipitated a lot by a Māori drive to re-establish its own cultural identity. Rangi has taken enormous hostility from the Headlands show  right through to the mid-2010s. This book is part of a maturing and an acceptance that we do have two very different cultural identities in this country. I suspect huge things are going to come out of that new relationship. I think those years [i.e. since 1992] were pretty awful to live through but good things can come out of that new relationship.
Derek Schulz, curator/writer
The comments/prophesies are both affirming but equally disturbing. The memories Rapira-Davies and Schulz raise are difficult ones. However, there is truth and a certain reality in them and both commentaries do help explain narratives out there dealing with/to my writing, my curating and my presenting. I have had to radically accept and absorb the turbulence and the opposition. My thinking is that if one is able to struggle with difference and hostility there is indeed the more valuable, more enduring potential for the new relationships, about which Schulz speaks, and with the pruning new, more vigorous, future flowerings.
The arts is a fiercely contested area in this country (as if that hadn’t occurred to you by the time you read this second post!) and it is, at times severely censored. Shona alludes to the role of fulcrum/target and Derek acknowledges both self-determination (tino rangatiratanga) and an enormous hostility that grew out of my writing for the Headlands catalogue in 1992 (see my upcoming post MaC V, ‘Headlands Unpublished’). However, the fallout from espousing Toi Tāhuhu, from advocating a Māori position, the ‘interior’ view of which Rapira-Davies speaks, is not just my issue – it is now, whether some people wish to acknowledge it or not, a collegial issue. I believe in Okiri’s argument that a lack of honesty in accordance with fact or reality returns a distortion of truth to the wider community, to its health and to its future wellbeing. It is not just my publication and my reputation that pays for mistruths, everyone pays. What follows then are some thoughts about how we tell ourselves stories and how that plays out in two texts published by the arts/museum community in Aotearoa.
The unspoken elements left out in historical editing (i.e. some of the extracts introduced at the beginning of this post) have nothing to do with ignorance or misinformation on the part of the writers. Rather, facts are deliberately withheld and anyone holding another point of view is portrayed as illogical, weird or worse ignored. I placed an excerpt of my published definition of a new Māori art history above the claims by Ellis and Brown to demonstrate the veracity of my argument: I have already written, past tense, a new Māori art history. Other accounts, ignoring the existence of Toi Tāhuhu, are rarely about individual authorship, they are collectively devised. Facts get muddled, a minimum of effort goes into locating simple dates and details. The reasons for this have to do with the will of an author not open to more fairly presenting a balanced assessment. Too much appears professionally at stake. The hero of the central account always remains radiant, always in key focus, always of key and praiseworthy interest.
A recently resurrected essay by senior academic Wystan Curnow (republished by editors Tina Barton and Robert Leonard in 2014) involves just such a narrative. It references my earlier mentioned essay ‘Maori at the Centre on the Margins…’ for the MCA Headlands catalogue in 1992 (an essay Leonard described as provoking, ‘…a twitchy Francis Pound to use a whole book to respond’). Curnow’s ‘Sewing up the Space Between’ (a reference to Pound’s publication ‘The Space Between’) makes the good, clever guy the local celebrated Pākehā art historian. Agreed, Francis Pound (1948-2017) was a good writer and he was a good thinker. I enjoyed working alongside him as my colleague and I don’t begrudge the melodious introduction Curnow bestows, ‘Among art writers…there are few I value more…’ [Someone who is described as] possessing liturgical lyricism and high-wire rhetoric…Linguistically and intellectually… [the said art historian’s] resources are formidable… [Later the same is described as a ferocious defender…]
But in the left corner weighing in… the ‘other’ is the dumb Māori…He is someone employing simplistic, unfair and improper judgements and someone whose writing possesses ‘fault.’ This castigating, polarising technique (see Schulz’s prior comment regarding the years 1992-2015) is a little worn by the time Curnow tries it on. It is his duty, he is obligated, he, ‘has to say’ that the local art historian’s, ‘…eloquence has to compete against, and is sometimes destroyed by, the voice of a polemicist who is forever personalising the larger issues looking for someone to praise or blame.’ Having just praised eloquent, cultured Pound (and having cast me as destructive polemicist) the writer then goes on to query (possibly blame) Pound casting him too as a polemicist (perhaps a lyrical, no doubt, a “good” polemicist).
This confusing taciturn characterisation is amusing primarily because, as with that of others who have also felt it their tasteful duty to protest, Curnow overlooks his own polemics while criticising someone else for committing the same hara. His comment attempting to differentiate himself then with, ‘Polemicists seek one another out’ rebounds a little. Te hokinga mai nei ‘this returning’ has to do with the binary evident in his own approach that presents the same blunt force colonialism vividly described in my original Headlands essay. What Curnow leaves out is any kind of useful, positive voice that I (or the ‘other’) might have (remembering the topic at its heart is really the underlying issue of cross-cultural dialogue). A little too eager to focus on the ‘forever’ voice of the polemicist from 1992, Curnow misses the point that rivers flow (3 year gap between publication and response) I had already moved on. It surprises me that after ¼ of a century others are still hanging around the Headlands matapuna. They clearly have not moved on. Instead of the ‘other’ being able to create new ideas it would appear that the ‘other’ is fixed, immovable and incapable of anything but the crudest reactions.
I would argue that the western hegemony, that McEvilley references, has also had an effect on Māori who privilege orthodoxy and who in a keenness to conserve and preserve legacy venerate their own versions of classicism.
Curnow, and the current editors of the excerpt from the older essay, are then a little out of touch. By the time the Govett Brewster in New Plymouth in 1995 had published his work I had already developed thoughts in a number of different directions. I was testing arguments around appropriation in several cross-cultural panels (involving local commentators like Moana Jackson, Jim Barr and Luit Bieringa) and guest lectures (NZ, Pacific, Australian Aboriginal) organised for the School of Design, Wellington. Meanwhile at the City Gallery, Wellington and later as a keynote address for the ‘Post-Colonial Formations Conference’, Griffith University, Brisbane (8 July 1993) I presented a paper ‘How will the Bellbird Sing?…’ in conjunction with Mangopare a song with a hip-hop kaupapa I had recently recorded with pioneering Niuean rap artist Phil Fuemana at the Otara Music Arts Centre (kei roto i te pikitia – ko ia te taha matau 9 February 1993).
The korimako kōrero was a deeper exploration of why I believe Māori design is an intangible cultural legacy that involves both physical and spiritual connections to its ‘m(ā)tua’ culture(s).
Between 2004 and 2005 this belief was fluidly in sync with that of an international team (a partnership involving UNESCO, Paris and the Hemispheric Institute, NY) I joined. We were exploring a new definition of ‘intangible cultural heritage’ receptive to input from indigenous scholars around the world. Our team worked under the pioneering Mexican anthropologist Dr Lourdes Arizpe and Dr Diana Taylor (Head of NYU Performance Studies) and was helping contribute to an ICH manual advising NGOs. Working primarily with Hispanic colleagues from the Americas I was rethinking the earlier 1993 paper in relation to Intangible Cultural Heritage in a roundtable discussion at an 2005 Encuentro in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. I remember comandeering the rito (the central metaphor in my 1993 paper) from a local harakeke plant, that sat in the garden of a guarded high rise apartment compound, to help bring my roundtable kōrero alive!
All these presentations could fairly be considered both a development on and a further clarification of the original kaupapa begun in the Headlands essay ‘Māori at the Centre: On the Margins’. The work included a 1993 paper (published by Routledge, London), two ‘Bridging Cosmologies’ workshops (a discussion of my thesis and the issue of authenticity in Māori art for the Departments of Anthropology, Film, Religion at NYU) and a paper (‘Letting the Trojan Horse in…’) presented at Comité international d’histoire de l’art CIHA (International Congress of Art Historians), Montreal in 2004. My purpose in providing this detail is to clarify while academics would like my views on appropriation to sketchily remain in 1992 they never did. I moved on, others did not.
Poorly disguised polemicism is one of a number of techniques (not enough space to explore a broader range here) employed in the New Zealand art world to keep others outside the controlling group. American art historian Thomas McEvilley, in Art and Otherness, believes positing criteria through ‘special’ narratives is a deliberate strategy on the part of the roopu (i.e. ‘the controlling group’) to maintain control. Is it not fitting that McEvilley suggests we need to examine our motivation in constructing and demanding these hegemonies?
‘All value judgements [i.e. regarding beauty and taste in art], being historically conditioned, are partly motivated ideologically and these are susceptible to social change, but it is to the advantage of the controlling group to posit its own criteria as eternal and universal.’ Exposing this discrepancy the writer then goes on to inclusively suggest, ‘… we have to criticise our own tastes and to see that certain elements in them are local and temporary and have hidden motivations that are not necessarily honorable …’ Thomas McEvilley, Art and Otherness
An example of this ‘posited criteria’ about which McEvilley speaks is a 2011 extract by art historian Conal McCarthy (University of Victoria). He employs the same central/marginal (major/minor, right/wrong) binary Curnow uses but does so obliquely. Indirectness comes as a result of his utilising other voices to say what he himself seeks. This layered approach (sometimes covering information opaquely) tends to bury his intention a little. Bear with me (the verbosity is purposeful and will require some patience here) as I work through his text making its structure and key underlying ideas a little more visible. I am aware many reading this post may not understand New Zealand’s local museum politics nor recognise a wider intention: a revisiting the vital contribution regional New Zealand has made to the visual arts.
McCarthy’s approach feels, perhaps inadvertantly, in sync with that of the current UoA gatekeeping described above. What he is doing is gathering, and therefore controlling, the narratives dealing with Māori exhibitions and Māori display culture dating back to the nineteenth century. The people who control your stories control you. The tone of his publications is informative but conservative and fully in line with the institution for which he worked. Their kaupapa privileges ideas about ‘authenticity’ and a series of protocols developed throughout its 19th , 20th and 21st century (Museum of New Zealand) institutional history. It is a centrist account relying on nationalism and a conservative tribalism that tends to place a tight lens on the past – as it applies to Māori. Given the singularity of focus and the conflict of interest found in an institution publishing and funding a book about itself, the conclusions McCarthy draws are entirely open to debate. However, a reader may struggle to locate any vigorous enquiry into these texts. Are New Zealanders really happy having their museological narrative laid down in such centrist terms? And what role might, or should, the regions play in such an account?
The ‘Case Study: Collecting and Exhibiting Māori Art’ concerning the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui is covered then in a small segment of Museums and Māori: heritage professionals, indigenous collections, current practice, Te Papa Press, 2011. Here the book’s publisher claims the construction of an entirely ‘new’ history of curating Māori embracing both the largest and the smallest collections. There are really good things about this work. Its breadth of content, the range of collections, their diverse location and the broad time scale (considering the volume of material) attempted is astounding. It is indeed entirely new in its scope and a very welcome addition to public knowledge in this area. McCarthy also assembles a huge range of imagery that has never appeared in a singular location like this. This is important foundational work that is a preliminary step to opening the area up.
However, Te Papa Press does make a number of assertions and here the author, at times, struggles to deliver. There is a discomforting superficiality, perhaps directed interest, in the attempt to cover smaller institutions and in the central discussion of Māori curators. Those in the Wellington museum profession, and those belonging to his former employer and to the publisher of the book, perform very well with large amounts of detail and focus. The tiniest or the smaller regional galleries – not so much. The operation of these adjusted lenses become problematic when the wide angle focus involving regionalism actually requires greater detailed attention.
It’s worth having a look here at a more focused account of the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui by Mina McKenzie, former Māori President of AGMANZ and Director of the Manawatū Museum, that more fairly introduces the institution and sets the scene. The Māori shows run by the Sarjeant are, in McCarthy’s account, treated more as a reaction to the blockbuster show touring the United States. McCarthy’s reference to my curatorial contributions (as with the previous 2007 book Exhibiting Māoriand the shonky chronology above devised by Paul Tapsell) is a postscript in a chapter entitled ‘After Te Māori’.
Some might consider the view from the margins quite differently. Former Sarjeant curator Derek Schulz (in a 1989 Art New Zealand article ‘The Gallery at its Limits’ also featuring commentary from Ngapine Allen) more broadly positions the Sarjeant’s aggressive Māori exhibition programme, during the seven years briefly covered by McCarthy 1984-1991, against a background of national indifference (amongst critical commentators and a number of institutions) to contemporary Māori art. Schulz notes,
…the Gallery and its Director’s record over the last seven years in providing hospitality for Māori artists and their work. This has not been without risk to reputation. Upwards of seven major shows have been pushed through in that time, yet, even now, prominent European commentators are not interested in work that takes its bearings from grassroots Māoritanga.
Māori art is not, nor ever has been, simply about sacred, ‘authentic’ ethnologically endorsed taonga Māori. It is a much more eclectic, changing artform seemlessly and messily involving both past, present and future. I can remember following Matchitt (my MA thesis topic – Buck Nin, left, Matchit, centre, son Maia filming WAR inside Dome, Sarjeant) to a lecture bravely espoused at the University of Waikato in 1987. His kōrero entitled, ‘Where to from Te Māori’ challenged an audience enthralled with the traditional. How could they not be? This was the era of te hokinga mai ‘the returning’ of Te Maori to New Zealand galleries. For a moment of time there was enormous local pride in traditional Māori art affirmed by prestigious American institutions. If the media was to be believed New Zealanders were changing their minds about the ‘local indigenous stuff in their institutions’, perhaps not the same antipodeans Schulz had in mind. It was an exciting time for those, like myself, studying Māori art. I was doing a thesis on Matchitt but I was also a kaiarahi ‘guide’ along with lots of others for the Auckland Art Gallery version of the exhibition.
So it was against this kind of background that Matchitt unpopularly was critiquing the ethnologically endorsed Rotorua School and offering comment on other national organisations replicating and endlessly copying the past with little inspired thought about experimentation, creativity and the future direction of the artform. This position helps put McCarthy’s Te Papa-centric ideas about museum history in perspective and within a broader continuum involving a more appropriate contemporary and a more panoramic national (i.e including the regional) context. Dilating the focus helps enlarge what McCarthy (and others) may be deliberately playing down.
McKenzie, writing for an Australian readership, is useful here in relation to the focus on TeMāori. She situates the show more properly within a longer continuum and within a much more inclusive context.
While Te Māori served to change attitudes to the interpretation of traditional Māori material cultural property, it had not addressed the place of contemporary Māori art within the context of either Māori or the ‘fine arts’ communities. Whatu Aho Rua takes the next vital step in bringing together traditional and contemporary Māori art within the context of art gallery and presenting it as a continuum within Māori society.
McCarthy’s Sarjeant account makes no such claims about continuum but rather allocates a subsidary role beginning in 1984 with Te Puawaitanga o te Kākano (a collaborative show with Paratene Matchitt and the organisation Ngā Puna Waihanga over which he was President). The name appears a homage to anthropologist Sidney Mead’s seminal Te Maori essay employing a plant metaphor to talk about the ‘flowering of the seed’ cycle in the art. There is however greater subtlety here. The show and its work, by living Māori artists, is not a theoretical construct about Māori art in some classical renaissance, it is referencing ‘the’ current flowering – te puwaitanga kei roto i te whare o Rehua – within the walls of the Sarjeant Gallery.
McCarthy then goes on to mention the Sarjeant is host in 1985 to an exhibition exploring collections of ‘contemporary’ Māori art. Curiously he will not name it – does he know/not know, perhaps the details are not at hand? The show, Contemporary Works by Māori Artists from PublicCollections, and its purpose are clearly outlined by a heritage historian (see MaC I) documenting Sarjeant history.
One of those key areas of disinterest in living Māori art had been some of Wellington’s institutions. Artists complained about very poor treatment by the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts (established 1882) and by the Dominion Museum anthropologist W.J Phillips (inheritor of an ultra-orthodox legacy begun by founding ethnologist Augustus Hamilton – see MaC IV) who made public statements denigrating toi hou rangatahi. A diplomatic Cliff Whiting, while not naming (my additions in parentheses) the people, names the issue and centres it in Pōneke:
Two or three people said Māori art was dead; some of us had an exhibition in the 1960s [NZ Fine Arts Academy] and a well known anthropologist [i.e. W.J Phillips, Dominion Museum, Wellington] said “This is not Māori art.” In actual fact, what they were really saying is that what is hung in museums and a few houses around was their idea of what Maori art should be...(1) We’re still recovering from what museums and ethnologists did to Māori art in terms of restricting the breadth and creativity of what was seen as Māori art.(2)
(1) Darcy Nicholas, 7 Māori Artists, 1986: 10
(2)Ian Christensen, Cliff Whiting:He Toi Nuku, He Toi Rangi, 2013:132
McCarthy’s editing of the Sarjeant account is selective. He follows a conservative trajectory largely because his is essentially an institutional account emerging from within a national context, funded and published by the Museum of New Zealand. The editing of the Sarjeant’s Māori exhibition legacy resonates aspects of this heritage. It next references a travelling exhibition Te Ao Marama [: Seven Māori Artists] deliberately positioning it alongside the bigger, more important, attraction, Te Māori, finishing its American tour and beginning another around New Zealand museums (including the Auckland Art Gallery and the National Museum) at the time. I quote the passage in its entirety highlighting portions useful to my commentary:
This exhibition [i.e ‘Contemporary Works by Māori Artists from Public Collections,’ 1985] was followed by the largest and most successful project of all, Te Ao Marama: Seven Māori Artists, a touring exhibition with an accompanying book. By this time, Milbank was addressing Māori staffing issues and had appointed Te Rangihīroa Panoho as an education and public programmes officer. Panoho effectively became a curator of contemporary Māori art and developed three significant exhibitions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first Cultur[e] [/] Response: Two Views in 1988, was a controversial take on the issue of pākehā artists such as Gordon Walters ‘appropriating’ Māori symbolism, an issue further explored in the Headlands exhibition at the National Art Gallery a few years later. The second was Whatu AhoRua in 1989, which explored the interweaving of change and tradition through contemporary and traditional elements in Māori art, and was staged alongside a current exhibition called Te Ao Māori, which was developed in consultation with writer Witi Ihimaera. Though art exhibitions without large numbers of old taonga, these shows were accompanied by the sort of opening ceremonial that was starting to become standard practice at museum exhibitions. The idea with these exhibitions, as Milbank remembers it, was, ‘putting together Māori material from museums seen as artefacts, letting it be seen as art alongside contemporary art, and looking at the links between traditional and contemporary.’ The third exhibition was Te Moemoea no Iotefa: The Dream of Joseph in 1990-1991, which was the first time New Zealand audiences were exposed to a significant display of contemporary art by Pacific Island artists based in New Zealand.
Conal McCarthy, Museums and Māori: heritage professionals, indigenous collections, current practice, Te Papa Press, 2011
A number of areas in the above exhibition history, are either incorrect, are too casually underplayed or they are deliberately overplayed. Firstly, I was initially employed under the job description of Extensions Officer in 1988. It was Conal who was the Education Officer for the National Art Gallery. I worked with him on a number of presentations connected with the NAG Headlands programme (19 and 30 September and 4 October 1992). Regarding position, there was no ‘effectively became’. The Whanganui Council officially acknowledged me as Curator in 1989. The reference to Te Ao Marama as the ‘largest and most successful project of all’ is highly unlikely and is coming from another individual(s) with a vested interest in the show. The photograph supplied to McCarthy of Te Ao Marama, in its original Whanganui context, puts the story in perspective. The show is small occupying one of the side wings of the gallery (there were 5 possible spaces including the central dome). McCarthy mentions Darcy Nicholas’ 7 Māori Artists as accompanying the show. However, there is no reference to the exhibition Te Ao Marama nor any acknowledgement of the Sarjeant Gallery in the book. This ommission is despite the fact that 37 objects illustrated in the publication appear to be the inventory for the show. The book, it seems, came out after the show and without the usual Sarjeant logo, directors foreword, acknowledgements…and would almost certainly have been published separately in 1986.
‘After Te Māori’, both the title and the space devoted to the concept in McCarthy’s book, suggests Whanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery is an afterthought. The artists involved in Te Ao Marama read as part of a wider national scheme intent on following up on the international success of TeMaori. And while some artists and the Director Bill Milbank did talk this way about the show what is achieved in Whanganui is far more important than simply contrapuntal, knee jerk reaction in the regions. Rather Whanganui was actually, for a brief window of time – the 7 years McCarthy covers – literally re-centring Māori exhibition culture with modest resources and the enormous energy Schulz earlier queried.
Milbank, in the previously referenced statement in 1988, puts responsibility back on Māori artists with particular reference to Te Maori. The tone of his text (i.e. altruistic ‘their’) suggests the Māori community driving this focus in line with a core belief he espoused that the gallery was merely responding to the energies of community. However, neither the Sarjeant nor its Director’s response was ever entirely passive. The genuine openness, Milbank defines, to Māori involvement (including myself) and the support of an amazingly generous Whanganui District council helped sustain, for nearly a decade, a remarkable focus on collecting, exhibiting and travelling ‘contemporary’ Māori art. You don’t find McCarthy talking this way because the grim reality for the geo-political centre, earlier on in the 1980s, was, that besides Te Māori, there were no such sustained (emphasis on equivalence here) foci on ‘contemporary’ Māori visual culture in New Zealand’s Metropolitan centres. Returning to McEvilley’s earlier thoughts about collective control, a fairer account of the Sarjeant’s Māori curatorial history doesn’t really fit in with the centrist criteria he is positing. Is this a broader problem in the way New Zealand bureaucracies and institutions like to redefine our histories?
Opening ones institution up to greater scrutiny (emic in origin), regarding weakness, is not kosher. In relation to McCarthy’s omission, of information surrounding Contemporary Works by Māori Artists from Public Collections, I had experienced first hand the state of these holdings. I regularly visited and viewed many of these collections, including the National Art Gallery (McCarthy’s former employer), prior (as a Masters student) during and after the period referenced by the show. In fact, the lack of support for Māori art in collections (with the exception of Ralph Hotere whose aesthetic and subject matter was often close to that of venerated Colin McCahon) led to the Sarjeant asking me to develop a policy for building up a better, more balanced Māori art collection (this is exactly what I am describing during this AGMANZ panel sitting next to a younger Greg McManus in the previous image). The research enquiry into national collections of Māori art and the attempt to develop a strategy locally, to address the gap, was years ahead of its time. Further, the wider disinterest from the centre, rather than simply the more obvious desire to replicate the success of Te Māori, more pragmatically explains why Ngā Puna Waihanga, ‘The Māori Artists and Writers Society’, not only bothered but felt comfortable with Whanganui as a prime portal for their visual culture at the time. Carefully cultivated elationships matter, regional histories matter.
When artists did get a rare opportunity at this time to work in the National Art Gallery, Buckle Street, Wellington the content could be extremely critical of the centre. Matchitt’s Te Wepu ‘the whip’ in the Huakina ‘elevate, raise up’ installation (see also my description in Te Papa Press essay in previous link), 1986, a resurrection of a poorly conserved battle flag (in the National Museum, allegedly torn up for rags by cleaners) flown by nineteenth century separatist leader Te Kooti Rikirangi in wooden assemblage, was portentious. Rather than selecting the types of objects displayed downstairs in Te Maori as his muse Matchitt deliberately chose a genealogy and a ‘folk’ object rejected by the national institution. ‘Te Wepu’ (Matchitt’s inspiration), the whip that Te Kooti promised would soon be applied across our lands, was far too resonant of nineteenth century Māori rebellion and of a rejection of colonial authority. Matchitt’s seditious battle pendant and the wooden structures that resonated ramparts and fortifications in Huakina ‘to raise up, to elevate’ could easily be interpreted as conceptually mapping out late twentieth century space. Everything about the rough untreated pine and demolition timber of Huakina is rupturing and piercing the primacy inferred in the more classical taonga on display downstairs.
What Matchitt had back in Whanganui was a space where he and his grassroots Māori arts community had tautoko tino. They were welcomed and supported for the next 5 years after which Ngā Puna Waihanga moved on to the National Art Gallery to do a large group show. I find the phase of time prior to this exhibition (curator Tim Walker’s 1993 Taikaka Kohia Anake) resonant in a kupu whakarite spoken by the Waikato King Tawhiao. Suffering his own isolation in Te Kuiti the Tainui leader understood deeply the mana of rivers and saw the West Coast colonial settlement as he matapihi o Niu Tureni, ‘the window of New Zealand.’ From 1984-1992  the Sarjeant’s Māori art programme was indeed this window for Māori and museums regardless of whether Conal acknowledges it or not. I lived through it, I and others remembered it and knew it.
Perhaps the most powerful measurement of the importance of the Sarjeant shows, that McCarthy fails to deliver detail on, has to do with how others (see for example indigenous commentators like Hetti Perkins and MinaMcKenzie) in the media and within the profession assessed them both during their display and subsequently. Despite McCarthy’s claims regarding Te Ao Marama there is no ongoing evidence for its scale nor its critical importance. This is of course a very difficult expectation to place on any exhibition created in the regional areas of New Zealand. Whanganui is not geographically central, it lacks the larger financial and human resources of major New Zealand city galleries. It is heavily reliant on sponsorship for the survival of its shows and there is huge pressure to create great content that will attract interest and wider support. The past and the ongoing response to two Sarjeant shows (WAR & Te Moemoea) and a more truthful rendition of their achievements, that McCarthy tends to underplay, may then surprise some.
Your work with the Whatu Aho Rua exhibition established your reputation in Australia as the most innovative curator of contemporary Māori art in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Julie Ewington, inviting a keynote address at, ‘Contemporary Culture and Curators’ conference, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney 18 September 1994
Following its initial Australian success at the Adelaide Festival, this major exhibition of Māori art will inform and excite Sydney audiences with its diversity of artistic practice drawn from current and historical Māori culture.
Ivan Dougherty Gallery, University of New South Wales, Press Release, WAR, 1-29 August 1992 Ivan Dougherty
In Australia Whatu Aho Rua was seen (at least for a couple of years) as a flagship show for new innovative work in contemporary Māori art curating from Aotearoa. This takes the show well outside McCarthy’s willingness to acknowledge a less important earlier show. Both the 1989 Whatu Aho Rua and Te Ao Māori (and the 1990 Te Moemoa no Iotefa with over 350 objects) occupied the entire floor space of the Sarjeant Gallery and the entire first floor of the Auckland Art Gallery including its historic Wellesley Wing airspace (masi – installation). They were exhibited in recognised Australian galleries. WAR received supportive critical reviews in national and regional media including Art and Australia, Art and Asia Pacific, Art Monthly Australia, Art Link, The Canberra Times, the Sydney Morning Herald, ABC, Art New Zealand, The Chronicle, The Dominion.
Te Moemoea travelled to Auckland and Wellington’s premier art galleries. It was covered by TVNZ, and Radio (National, South Pacific, Student Radio). If success is measured by attendance and positive responsive feedback all venues suggest the exhibition was one of the more popular shows in New Zealand in the summer of 1990/1991. I only have data for the City Gallery, Wellington while Auckland Art Gallerywas a muchlarger venue. In Pōneke 13, 502 attended. Attendance at its’ Wednesday night series was up 80% and its school programmes attendance increased by 500%. The gallery, especially with its’ Education Staff promoting and marketing Te Moemoea, established a new Pacific audience and a living community involvement within its space.
Whatu Aho Rua and Te Moemoea no Iotefa were critically received by the art gallery and museum profession in their time. WAR was in demand (6 different venues) on both sides of the Tasman. It travelled to the Dowse Art Gallery, Lower Hutt shortly after it was the feature show of the 1989 AGMANZ annual conference held in Whanganui and the Ngā Puna Waihanga annual hui held at Ratana Pā, Turakina that year. In 1992, I redesigned its floor plan, with a brand new catalogue, new essay and revised inventory. Streamlined with 55 objects, some newly selected, it opened at the Kaurna Gallery of Tandanya, National Aboriginal Arts Centre for the Adelaide International Arts Festival before touring to the Canberra School of Art Gallery, Australia National University and lastly to the Ivan Dougherty Gallery, University of New South Wales.
Later in 1992 Whatu Aho Rua returned finally to the the Whanganui Regional Museum (a key partner in its lengthy development and a major source of its taonga). As with Te Ao Marama Whanganui hapū, kuia and elders and Māori artists accompanied the show at its different venues. Māori communities in Adelaide, Canberra and Sydney responded to it (i.e. as kaiarahi and in ngā roopu kapa haka) as the show made its way around the three Australian centres. It’s te hokinga mai was welcomed by artists, tāngata whenua, institutions and the local public in Whanganui. These events carried on over a lengthy 4 year time span (beyond McCarthy’s timeline for the Sarjeant, well into 1992) another indicator of the degree to which many institutions, artists and commentators believed in and actively supported it. Underplayed.
These Sarjeant exhibitions were not just nicely selected collections of artefacts they were shows deliberately testing their audience and stretching ideas about what the collecting, display and interpretation of these objects/taonga means. Margot Porter, a journalist for the Dominion, Wellington 1991, suggests to her readership a depth (behind Te Moemoea no Iotefa) that moves beyond the straightforward, the singular, the traditional, the orthodox and the obvious:
Cross-currents crackle around the latest exhibition at Wellington’s City Gallery. People who like to keep art in neat pigeonholes… will probably find Te Moemoea no Iotefa (Joseph’s dream defeats them. Rangihīroa Panoho…has curated a lively exhibition which aims to be a lot more than a showcase for artists with a Pacific Island background who are working in New Zealand. It is that, but it’s also a visual essay about cross-fertilisation.
Margot Porter, ‘Visual Essays of the Pacific‘, The Dominion, 20 July 1991
Nor did an interest in these exhibitions stop with the timeline McCarthy offers. Rather these Sarjeant shows continue to be critically acknowledged and remembered today. In the voluminous Art in Oceania (Thames and Hudson, 2012), covering Pacific Art, one of the contributors art historian Dr Peter Brunt in Part VI, ‘Contemporary Pacific Art and Its Globalization’, Art in Oceania: A New History, succinctly saw the value of Te Moemoea to the Pacific community in Aotearoa as:
What further measures of success then does an exhibition need to be properly acknowledged? McCarthy perhaps offers an answer to that question when he begins his next (final) paragraph, outlining the Sarjeant’s contribution to Māori exhibitions, further positing criteria:
‘Though art exhibitions without large numbers of old taonga, these shows [i.e the exhibitions Whatu Aho Rua and Te Moemoea no Iotefa] were accompanied by the sort of opening ceremonial that was starting to become standard practice at museum exhibitions.’
The chapter Raruraru ki te Puna ‘trouble at the spring’ (pp.138-173) in Maori Art is devoted to unpackaging the idea that centralising thought processes, protocols and resources (the DNA of a number of Wellington institutions and the Rotorua School set up under a law passed by parliamentarian Sir Apirana Ngata) is not necessarily helpful to nurturing creativity within an indigenous culture. Copying ‘old’ carvings, stringently using them as models in art, conserving and maintaining them in storage and presenting them in permanent displays may solve the problem of potential loss of visual legacy but it hatches a range of new issues that have yet to be tested curatorially in Aotearoa. How, for example, does an indigenous visual culture maintain floriferous creativity, more naturally, outside a winter of colonisation and outside those powerful regions of national culture deemed to be the centre?
The next post looks at the legacy of one of the earliest promoters of authenticity in Māori art: Dominion Museum Director Augustus Hamilton and his book MAORI ART as MaC IV continues.
'There have been no focused strategies, no foundational initiatives, no convergence of influence or development of critical mass created by the sector to provide contemporary Māori art curators with opportunities to evolve our curatorial practice further. Most of the expansion of contemporary Māori art curatorial practice I would submit has been self-seeded and created by the art curators themselves....It is clear that the curatorial field I inhabit has not been actively grown when my curatorial position is one of only two dedicated contemporary Māori art curatorial positions in the country. I am probably the most established, having a curatorial career that spans 26 years and in a position that progressed from an initial 10 month internship founded at the National Art Gallery in 1990 to what is now the Curator of modern and contemporary Maori & Indigenous art at Te Papa.'
Megan Tamati-Quennell, Curator of modern and contemporary Māori and Indigenous art at Te Papa Tongarewa, 2016
'In 198 the gallery employed Rangihīroa Pan[o]ho, the first Māori to be employed as a curator in a New Zealand art museum (and also the first Māori to secure a [Masters] Art History degree) as a member of the staff. In 1989 he curated the ground-breaking exhibitionsWhatu Aho Rua, which was shown at the Sarjeant in conjunction with an already formed contemporary artists show called Te Ao Māori. In 1991 Whatu Aho Rua was reconfigured by
Pan[o]ho and was toured by the Sarjeant with full escorting support from Whanganui Iwi to four important venues in Australia before closing at the Whanganui Regional Museum. Also in 1990 he curated the spectacular and ground breaking Te Moemoea No Iotefa, which went to Wellington and Auckland. This exhibition was the first to bring together traditional Pacific Island craft with contemporary craft and the work of contemporary Pacific Island artists.'
Chris Cochrane, Heritage Assessment for the Whanganui District Council, Sarjeant Gallery, 2012: 19
'I flew to NZ to visit Mr Panoho from Tonga (where I was working on gender and art) and saw his outstanding Te Moemoea No Iotefa. The exhibition was well orchistrated, each room had its own logic and functionality. The artworks were diversely discursive, often providing alternative cultural critiques to contemporary idioms and issues of appropriation. The veracity of the exhibition was clearly due to his ability to establish a relationship of trust with the artists.' (1)
'Panoho works primarily in the field of taonga and contemporary Māori Art, theory, criticism and cultural studies. This is a demanding field that forces him to always be on the cutting edge - which he is - with a careful balance of historical depth, agile insight and sagacious theory into relevant current issues. Panoho's catalogue texts (e.g Whatu Aho Rua and Te Moemoea no Iotefa) are a good case in point; they challenge the way Western art historians think about the context of art and suggest that we stop canonizing contextual categories and move towards a better understanding of contexts that brings "traditional" and contemporary Māori art more forcefully into play.' (2)
Jehanne Teilhet-Fisk, Professor Emeritus, Visual Arts Program, University of California, San Diego, writing to Art History Department, University of Canterbury, 10 February 1992 (1) and the University of Auckland, 11 October 1996 (2)
‘We are contemporaries. We did Art History together in the early eighties at the University of Auckland. After completing his Masters...thesis on Paratene Matchitt Rangi joined the Sarjeant Gallery in 1988 working as Curator Māori. He was part of a new wave of young art museum curators at that time which also included Greg Burke, Tina Barton and myself.'
Robert Leonard, Chief Curator, City Gallery, Wellington, 25 August 2016
Writing ‘Maori Art’ presentation City Gallery, Wellington. Panoho (far left) Robert Leonard (Chief Curator – rear left) Elizabeth Caldwell (Director – rear right) and panel members Megan Tamati-Quennell (Te Papa) and Dr Peter Brunt (Victoria University), 25 August 2016
‘Curator: that was the guy carrying the hammer’, Interview, Rangihīroa Panoho and Fred Graham, Auckland Museum, 2016
Gould Street, Russell, 17 Nov. 1986
Tēnā koe Rangihīroa
I read your letter with interest and noted that it's a thesis on Para Matchitt. He is an important Māori Artist and earlier on in our careers we worked jointly on a number of projects. I congratulate you and hope you succeed in giving all a true picture of the man...
I wish you all the best with your work and hope we meet sometime.
Ōwairaka, 14 August 2017
Te Whanakao tou maunga
Oraka tou punawai
Kereu tou awa
Ko Kaiaio tou hapū
Ko Te Whānau-ā-Apanui tou iwi
E Cliff, moe mai, takoto mai rā ki te poho o Te Atua. Hāere, hāere, hāere. Hāere ki Hawaiki nui, Hawaiki roa, Hawaiki pāmamao. Aroha ki tou whānau pani.
Ka hinga te rakau rangatira, he kauri. I whakarongo au ki te paopao o tou tinana ki te papa ngaore o Pukauakua te pā o Te Ponaharakeke. Ae, ngāueue ana te ngahere. E Ihowa ka mahuetia koe ki ngā peka aweawe me ngā rau e whiti ana hei uwhiuwhi mo ngā manu e noho ana kei runga. Pakaru te ruruhau, e koheri ana te hau kawa ki te kete aronui. Nā reira, takoto mai e Cliff, kia tangihia koe e ō iwi. Ka ngaro koe, te kaihautū, te toi rangatira Māori, te kura whakahirahira o ngā uri o Pou, te mauri o te whenua, te mauri o te tangata, haere! Haere rā!
When looking at this image of Clifford and Paratene in Hamilton in 1966 I didn’t, until recently, think of curated shows. When I spoke to senior Māori artist Fred Graham in 2016 about this early period his recollection of the role was that, ‘The curator was the guy carrying the hammer.’ Too young for this era I was to feel its influence decades later, in 1986-1988, when travelling the country as a Masters student in art history doing a thesis on Paratene Te Mokopuorongo Matchitt. I have a vivid recollection of stepping through the same assembly hall doors in 1987. Inside that space there were more signs of the curatorial act than Graham conceded. Here, for the reader, I am quickly resorting to all of the broader permutations of the word curator, cūrāre (14th century Latin meaning), the Scottish concept of the legal guardianship, the Ecclesiastical function of pastoral care or nurture, the Māori concept of kaitiakitanga and so on. I can’t detail any of these concepts here but I intend all of them because I am describing a function that is necessarily atavistic and cross-cultural with a huge range of layers and complexities that make it what is has now become (not only in the world but in Aotearoa and in institutions across the Asia Pacific).
The toenga kai ‘remainders’ of this important exhibition/declaration (i.e. represented in the National Publicity photograph) held years earlier was, on my arrival, still impressive. Four ceiling height carvings by Matchitt in 1965 stood silently stage-side. The large mural Niho Taniwha from the same year presided over the back wall. It was in other words a space that the artist had already delineated and conceptualised. However, most curatorially resonant was a label positioned adjacent one set of carvings. The writing on the wall referenced not just the collection of creative energy and outpouring of collegiality that characterised this central North Island site – Sacred Heart Girls in Hamilton later in 1966. The label (yes singular and significant because I know of no other occasion when the artist took such trouble to spell out meaning in his display committing himself to writing!) also conveyed curatorial care for a central conceptual issue. When I first began curating at the Sarjeant Gallery I remember asking Roger Blackley, Curator of Historical New Zealand Art at the Auckland Art Gallery, for some template suggestions for labels. Perhaps if I, as a student, had looked more closely at this 1966 interior I might have later realised the important foundations already more informally laid. Matchitt was using the label to not only clarify the sculpture but also to talk about the kind of event he evisaged in the Sacred Heart hall and perhaps future exhibition spaces. Whiting and Matchitt were here both involved, as kinsmen, in helping nurture the beginning of a key conceptual shift.
The text describes a changing of the guard and it does so by referencing the story illustrated in Matchitt’s totems of Rangi and Papa separated by their children at the front of the hall. Matchitt’s concern is not simply modernist talk about freedom and enlightenment and tradition giving way to modernity. Matchitt, Whiting and a limited number of others, as curators of this vision, devoted their lives to trying to select, shape and give a particular feel to te wehenga: that Tane whakapiripiri energy that both separates generations and that joins humanity within architectural and conceptual space. Curatorship is the vehicle with which that commitment is explicitly conveyed because the message is too important to leave to the viewer to interpret.
In the postscript to that symbolic departure the two Māori arts and crafts advisors, shown here inside the Sacred Heart hall, look inquisitive, they are working the room, they are touching the artworks (i.e refer back to the kaitiaki ‘guardianship’, pastoral function introduced earlier in this post). Of course they are aware of the camera lens but they also appear genuinely focused on the work of their mates. They are visually engaged with the different design solutions to the same problem: how does one redefine legacy as art? A year later Matchitt was to describe his work (and this applies broadly to many of the rangatahi artists of the time) as a balancing act where the Maori School of thought and the Western School both played on his mind. He said he was never sure how it would turn out. 51 years later (despite some very heavy defining of taha Māori within academic and museological institutions throughout Aotearoa) that Sacred Heart Girls’ Assembly hall prediction continues to remain prophetic, fresh and unscripted ready for someone else to walk through the door and revisit the thought.
I started out wanting to post here something skeletal, perhaps obligatory, regarding my contributions 22 years later as a foundational Māori art curator, to a recent celebration of half a century of Māori curatorial activity dating back to the Sacred Heart moment. It has now been 29 years since I curated shows, which the above colleagues reference. Some might think, perhaps justifiably, I am simply going to recount nostalgia but in resurrecting this past I have no tolerance for posterity or for simply thinking in the past tense. My interests are current. I have never stopped applying for jobs in the curatorial, art museum and art gallery area in New Zealand nor have I stopped imagining shows, for me the dream of Joseph and the role of the curator continues.
One key New Zealand post (2016), recently advertised and specifically in the contemporary Māori curatorial area for which I was not shortlisted, stands out. There was the usual officious note and only after pressing the Director further did I receive a response explaining my writing and my academic research was acknowledged (I had just published an award winning book on Maori Art not long before the job was posted) but no recognition was given to curating. Indeed the word curator had, perhaps too conveniently, slipped away. It (and the pastoral, guarding, shaping connotations of the kupu referenced earlier) is however implied. The suggestion appears to have been that I fall into line and help mentor the successful curatorial candidate.
There is absolutely no question that Dr Rangihīroa Panoho is superbly qualified academically and has an impressive proven track record as a pioneer educator, researcher, scholar and writer in relation to Māori art, recognised in both Aotearoa and internationally...The position of Curator, Māori Art...possesses, in addition to scholarly experience, the key resposibility for Curatorial and Collection Management in the area of Māori art...The gallery looks forward to the possibility of working with Dr Panoho as a mentor figure, thinker and historian who actively contributes in an important way to the field of Māori art and culture.
After reading my ongoing installments (more MaC posts to follow) I leave the readers to judge for themselves whether this is a fair presentation of my career (i.e. the academic not the curatorial) as I recount my role as a foundational Māori curator in this country. Initially this involved drafting the first specifically ‘contemporary’ Māori art acquisition and collection management policy in a New Zealand art gallery (August, 1988) and presenting it on a panel at a national art gallery and museum forum (AGMANZ annual hui, Whanganui, 1989) but also continuing curatorial activity and the ongoing management of a diverse range of shows (existing and proposed) both within and outside the walls of institutions in New Zealand and abroad.
What the 1966 space demonstrates, along with a very important juxtaposition of art alongside taonga also in the 1960s by Paratene Matchitt and John Bevan-Ford, is that there have in fact been many, many foundational acts of cūrāre that have taken place and which continue to hold resonance. As Māori moving in the flow of that legacy we have an obligation to both search for and to understand what comprises ēnei puna koropupū. I would hope that my ongoing legacy contributes to this reretanga ‘flow’. I did not simply stop curating after I resigned (14 August 1991) my position at the Sarjeant Gallery and took up a lectureship (16 September 1991) with the School of Design in Wellington. Rather, initially I honoured, ‘…my commitment to the successful display of the Sarjeant Gallery exhibition Te Moemoea no Iotefa at the Auckland Art Gallery’ (resignation letter) and continued an intensive development of my curatorship in a range of later projects while taking on the new challenge of beginning the lifelong role of educator.
Much to my wife’s bewilderment a sense of curatorial duty still lingered beyond the AAG venue (14 September-20 October 1991). It was the unwelcome guest during my family Christmas holiday in December/January 1992 as I took late night pilgrimages to the tiny office in Whananaki Primary School to plan and fax contracted liason expat Julian Bowron. The seaside escape was my temporary space for creating and checking object lists, catalogue essay changes, floor plans, display furniture, wall colours… for a complete redesigning of Whatu Aho Rua to open at the Adelaide International Arts Festival 3 March 1992. Tandanya requested my continuing involvement. They negotiated with Dr Ray Thorburn and my new employer in Wellington an obligation to return to Tandanya, the National Aboriginal Institute in Adelaide to supervise the unpacking and the successful installation of Whatu Aho Rua which later toured venues in Canberra and finally Sydney.
In Pōneke I was already thinking ahead to a new show which I had begun to formulate during my time on secondment at the Manly Art Gallery and Museum (August 1990) Sydney and as a keynote speaker at the Contemporary Culture and Curators (Julie Ewington, left, and Megan Tamati-Quennell chatting post hui) conference hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 18 September 1994. Both visits gave me a chance to talk to a wider circle of senior curators and with directors and managers of major public and private art collections. These meetings and informal gatherings helped open up a whole other level of possibilities pushing connections often in less prescribed directions. While I had an opportunity to research and study major public and dealer gallery collections of Aboriginal Art my visits to Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide were beginning to flower in other areas:
'It was a great pleasure to meet up with Rangi Panoho and his wife when they were here recently and I enjoyed being able to introduce them to people and places in Sydney. Rangi has made an excellent impression on many people here...Rangi showed us photographs of the Pacific exhibition [i.e Te Moemoea no Iotefa] he is currently working on for the Sarjeant and I thought it looked stunning. Julie Ewington, Curator at the School of Art Gallery in Canberra, was also very excited by the images. We both wish to tentatively express an interest in a reduced version of the exhibition and enquire as to the possibility of a selected version travelling to 2-3 venues in Australia.'
Louise Pether, Director, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, University of New South Wales, Sydney writing to Bill Milbank, Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui, 2 October 1990
Contact and kōrero with MCA Chief Curator Bernice Murphy connected me with Aboriginal curator Djon Mundine and Aboriginal artist Fiona Foley, a curatorial connection with historical Parramatta and with a Māori elder who had supported the staging of the Headlands exhibition in 1992. It may have been my discussions with Bernice, these artists, a visit to the Boomalli Aboriginal Art Collective in Redfern and an awareness of my wife’s uncle Sir Kingi Ihaka (uncle Matu)and his attempting to establish a Mihinare base (towards a mārae) in Sydney that suggested an idea. What if there was ‘another’ Hawaiki and it was Aotearoa? What might comprise the similar but ‘not quite the same’ expression of te ao Māori that existed in these Australian urban communities and perhaps in other parts of the globe? Was Hawaiki not simply the last location that we lived? My proposal Hawaiki: Last Homeland was one that gathered together networks and momentum from a number of different quarters.
Luit Bieringa (former Director NAG and a freelance consultant) was a key supporter and helped generate interest from the Ministry of Arts facilitating a number of key meetings including a session at Auckland Museum with myself, Director Rodney Wilson and Exhibition Manager Priscilla Thompson who offered very generous forms of support to the prospective show. Remembering I was working outside the gallery environment and Creative New Zealand – Te Waka Toi were more cautiously interested:
'I have discussed the outline [i.e Hawaiki: Last Homeland] with our Director Ereatara Tamepo, who has recommended we present the proposal to the Board at the next available meeting...[Te Waka Toi have] a keen interest in [the] concept for the Exhibition...Australia is an excellent audience for dialogue on changes and development of indigneous arts of the Pacific, and the Sydney arts audience is acknowledged in its incisive appreciation of culture in change.'
Garry Nicholas, Executive Officer, Te Waka Toi, 16 December 1994
Garry talked about the initial enquiries with MCA (i.e the unmentioned ‘gallery in Sydney’) as looking promising and we also received a letter of recommendation from the Minister of Arts along with initial sponsorship from the Australia/New Zealand Foundation. After leaving the School of Design in 1995 I made a commitment to work on Hawaiki: Last Homeland fulltime as a freelance curator from Auckland. I was very grateful for the generous help I received from a number of institutions and organisations but the timing may not have been good and I found it very difficult, as an individual, to secure major funding and full institutional involvement. I approached the Museum of New Zealand and noted ruefully, in an unsent letter to the Minister of Arts later in 1995, there had been, ‘…no written response, [although I had heard] from one of the staff members that support was declined [because] they [i.e. MONZ] were wanting to do a similar type of project.’
My failure to secure major financial support did not though seem to deter others, particularly Australians, who believed in, and very much wanted to realise, the project. Earnest requests for support were being extended from the distance of Australia. Bernice Murphy’s advocacy of funding (as with that of the Auckland Museum, 14 March 1995) for my exploratory, foundational curatorial work to Gregory Burke (Manager Visual Arts Programme, Creative NZ) met a dead end a number of times but it’s tone shows efforts were being made from the other side of the Tasman to support an ongoing curatorial vision well into late 1996:
'This is a wonderful project, we feel, as conceptualised by Rangi, and we would like to support its development into an exhibition that would be shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, in 1998. Leon Parosissien [Director] and I considered the concept in outline, and talked it through with Rangi, when he was visiting the MCA...We believed it offered a vivid possibility of ensuring one major project through which we could keep things moving along in our relations with New Zealand...[and] connections leading into the Māori community around Sydney. Cliff Whiting and Eric Tamepo [Te Waka Toi leader] have also been aware of these connections through their having met Sydney Māori elder, Graeme Anderson, at the MCA during the opening of HEADLANDS. In summary, Rangi's project, and its conceptualisation, make it a very exciting and timely one in our view, and we wish to help realise it here as an important event in the programme for 1998 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. We respect Rangi, know and value his professionalism and are completely assured of his seriousness and capacities to deliver an exciting and innovative project...'
At that time I was beginning to receive a scholarship, having enrolled in a PhD in Art History at AU (‘Authenticity in Māori Art’). This contact with the department I had trained in was eventually to lead to a part-time, then full-time teaching post in Māori and Polynesian Art for around a decade from 1997. My last meeting with Bernice was a Guide Rangi visit leading her and Leon Parosissien around the Māori Hall, Auckland Museum (5 September 1995). My last correspondence was 10 August 1996.
'I would like to have some discussion with you, if by chance you will be in Auckland this Monday or Tuesday about the Hawaiki project...I am coming to Auckland briefly for the function concerning the Auckland City Art Gallery's new contemporary space this week...I am seeing whether I can meet Paula Savage also, if she will be there, to explore whether we can sort out some path forward. I do want to see how we can assist the progress of your project, Rangi.
Kia ora rā
CHIEF CURATOR - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
3 September 1995
'Regarding Hawaiki: Last Homeland...I spoke to Nick Tsoutas [Executive Director, Artspace, Visual Art Centre, Sydney] about you and your project (Leon was there also). We agreed that we both would like to do what we can to help you keep your research going - especially helping you on your planned travel to Sydney and NSW. Leon and I...[and Nick] promised to regroup on issues to do with your project (and the Pacific) in a little while, after all the Biennale visitors and opening envents have subsided...'
MCA 10 August 1996
While all this work on Hawaiki had been taking place I also had another offer from Australia. Nevill Drury, Managing Editor/Publishing Manager at Craftsman House, Sydney (at the instigation of former MA thesis supervisor Dr Michael Dunn) commissioned me to write a book on MAORI ART. I had already begun work on the manuscript back in 1993, had a royalty and sponsorship support from Creative New Zealand and had begun working with photographers Mark Adams and Haruhiko Sameshima on the sacred landscapes and buildings that would feature in that publication. My curatorial work began to move more in that direction while I was also still refining Hawaiki. The last full exhibition proposal that I submitted was to the Auckland Art Gallery in 2000 and later to the Gus Fisher, University of Auckland.
Mark Adams, Te Rere a Miru, 6 January 1995. Wairua te wairere, Wairoa ki te Tai Tokerau te awa, Kaipara te moana
Te Ko Puru: The Blockade (aka earlier Four Waterfalls) was working much more with the themes that I was developing in my writing. It was tribally based but political and specifically oriented to Tāmaki as a location connected with my ancestral families and hapū. It was an exciting exhibition proposal involving the commissioning of mural sized photographs (Studio La Gonda had the equipment to produce this imagery) by Mark Adams and their presentation alongside objects from the Gallery collection. Some of the Adams material featuring my tribal landscape was already part of our collaborative work (i.e large format photographic negatives and a full series of smaller prints) created while doing field research in Te Tai Tokerau for my book MAORI ART. The submission included a 12 page document with a complete inventory of objects, a detailed summary of each individual work and their kaupapa within the show, a preliminary budget and a detailed floor plan for around 30 linear metres of wall space. The list of objects included paintings from the AAG collection featuring waterfalls along with 4 proposed images by Mark Adams that utilised waterfalls. Wairere was my metaphor for earlier Māori geographies, tino rangatiratanga and northern interests in Tāmaki Makaurau. The university response, given later events explained in MaC III ‘BULL’, is irrelevant but initially the project sat with AAG, and its newly appointed Māori curator Ngahiraka Mason, for a number of months meeting (as with Greg Burke earlier) another dead end. Ae, ko te puru. Hei aha.
I continued to work on Hawaiki: Last Homeland and as recently as 13 January 2009 was still hoping to revive central themes (i.e notion of Hawaiki, Polynesian diaspora and redefined concepts of the global mārae) of the show with the possibilities of a post doctoral fellowship and a partnership with the Field Museum. Regenstein Curator of Anthropology at the Field, Dr John Terrell, writing to the Auckland University Vice Chancellor:
'Dr Panoho and I first met at a Pacific Arts Association conference in Honolulu in 1989. Since then, he and I have discussed his ideas and projects on a number of occasions, both in New Zealand and in Chicago. While my own particular field is anthropology, my sense is that he has a refreshing, perhaps controversial, perspective on how to celebrate and, where advantageous, rework Pacific Islands visual culture. I am particularly enthusiastic about the possibility of developing collaborative undertakings with Rangihiroa dovetailing with my own and future projects. Our preliminary discussions in this direction have been a lively and spirited dialogue. The area of enquiry that he has chosen is a particularly fertile one both for Chicago-which has the honour of caring for the only 19th century wharenui in the New World--and for other overseas museum, cultural centers and the like. Once funded his field work in Brisbane, Sydney, London and elsewhere should help change minds and shift current thinking about how the traditions, arts and values of Pacific Islanders can contribute to global understanding and cultural practice. In my opinion, Dr Panoho is the ideal person for the job that needs to be done to bring more of the "The Pacific Way" to the world's attention in the constructive fashion that he and I have been discussing.'
I was involved with various exhibition proposals (i.e Utopia Station curatorium in 2004) that other colleagues initiated during my time at UoA. None of these projects eventuated inside institutions until my curating of IOU in association with my recent publication MAORI ART by Batemans and Pihirau in 2015, its launch at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Art Gallery, Titirangi and its wider exploration in a Creative New Zealand funded IOU at Tivoli Art Gallery, Waiheke Island 19 March 2016. I discuss this new creative direction in the article, Writing the book Maori Art, then painting and curating it as a show
In all of this time then away from the Sarjeant Gallery I have never shied away from serious attempts to curate or from applying for curatorial positions. Indeed it was educator Jonathan Mane-Wheoki’s opinion, ‘…the gallery world needed me’ that encouraged me to renew attempts to apply for positions he supported. Some may read my chronological description of events as a rather mixed, perhaps, entropic effort. It is what it is. I have tried to tell this story as clearly as I have understood it. It certainly raises a number of questions about why the New Zealand gallery/museum world is such a heavily controlled and resistant space. What is being protected? What is in danger of being lost? Who controls the narratives and the way that the objects are allowed to be interpreted and treated? I return to some of these central questions in my next installment where I work with some key ‘gatekeeper’ texts that attempt to cast my legacy in a particular light. COMING UP: