If the ancestors’ eyes what might we see, if their hands what might we touch, if their ears, what might we hear? Whakarongo ki te tai. E tangi hāere ana. ‘Listen to the tide, lamenting as it flows on.’ Words radiate a ring path, skimming thin, slicing obsidian smooth — a face. Like the tohunga ‘spiritual expert’ scanning the pools of Te Waiāriki — have you ever tried to read water? Can you feel their thinking about movement, sound, rhythm, light, space, distance, surface and … silence? In these words and their sounds:
wai whakaata ‘shadow water’, waiwhetu ‘water where stars are reflected’, waipōuri ‘dark water’, waipīata ‘glistening water’, waitematātuhua ‘water smooth as the face of obsidian’, wainono ‘water that oozes’, waingaehe ‘murmuring waters’, wairere ‘water that rushes’, waitangi ‘waters that cry’, waimate ‘stagnant water’, waimano ‘deep flowing water’ waikorohihī ‘hissing water’, waimāreparepa ‘water that splashes and ripples’, wairoa ‘long water’, waipao ‘water that causes the rocks to clatter’, wairua ‘second river’, waihi ‘strong current’, waimaha, ‘many streams’.
Like abundant tributaries feeding the flow, nurturing our art, refreshing our identity, the past is a point to which we must return. Me hokimai tātou ki ēnei puna waihanga ‘these are springs of creativity to which we must always keep coming back’. Whakarongo ake ana au ‘there might I listen’ — to reflect on, to consider, to feel, to encircle and to remain. Into these collecting points, ngā puna i te ao mārama ‘the pool of the world of light’:
that which was is ‘becoming’ that which has departed is increasingly returning.
Rangihīroa Panoho, MAORI ART History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory, Batemans Publishers, NZ, 2015/2018: 22-23
Ka mate he tete kura ka tupu he tete kura
'When one red fern frond falls, another takes its place.'
It’s New Year’s eve 2019 tonight. Aucklanders have fled the City for the beaches. They have escaped to the Northland and to the Coromandel coastlines. This place is a ghost town. Driving around feels a little like going back to the empty suburban roads of the 1980s during other periods of vacation. Many indigenous cultures have different concepts regarding the arrival of the New Year. For our tūpuna it was the months of winter (late May/early June) and the appearance of the star cluster Matariki ‘Pleiades constellation’ that signalled the change. While June 10 was celebrated this year there was traditionally a longer, natural cyclic rhythm that brought cosmos and people together in celebration throughout tribal Aotearoa. Matariki was a time for the harvesting of natural resources, a time of reflection and a time of planning for the future.
While the heavens are a natural place to turn to this time of year (i.e. Bethlehem – the morning star and the Christian narrative) I am a Māori art historian and Māori art is full of natural cyclic symbols that may prove useful to this discussion. My book MAORI ART looks at the metaphor of rivers in our ancestral thinking as a way of considering the flow of history in our artforms. It may have been a short essay I wrote recently on kōwhaiwhai based artist Sandy Adsett that made me more aware of a rauponga fern sending out pitau shoots over the last couple of weeks. Photographing the fern immediately brings to mind one of the key design modules in Māori art – the koru and it is this motif, its history and its natural origins, that is the focus for the remainder of this short essay. The koru, I suggest, is actually a good metaphor for acknowledging the New Year.
There are many natural sources for the koru. While the spiral is commonly used by many cultures throughout the world the koru and its particular usage by New Zealand Māori is unique for a range of reasons. Firstly, it represents an aesthetic shift in Polynesian design history. The koru, and its many different manifestations in te toi whakairo ‘Māori woodcarving’ and kōwhaiwhai ‘Māori rafter painting’, constitutes a deliberate movement away from the angular forms and patterns that were part of the proto Polynesian aesthetic (particularly present in pottery, tapa and tātau) to a uniquely curvilinear form. The koru developed and flourished here in Aotearoa as our ancestors became increasingly isolated from their Hawaiki (i.e. their various Pacific homelands).
Sandy Adsett, Ngāti Pahaurewa and New Zealand Historic Places Trust restoration, HINERINGA meetinghouse, Raupunga mārae. Photography: Haruhiko Sameshima (commissioned by author) 19 January 1994, destroyed by fire 2007.
Secondly, the koru is a response to the equally unique natural environment found here in Aotearoa. The shape of the previously described unfurling fern frond is one commonly referred to as a source of inspiration for the koru. The pitau is embryonic and full of potential and that is what probably attracted our ancestors to the architecture of its growth. It suggests in its coil that life involves all sorts of possibilities. Life is potential. Tomorrow is another day that will unfold in a way that may be completely different from today. The unfolding fern frond also suggests a point of return in its circularity. It speaks of natural cycles, continuum and a returning…
Just the right motif, I say, to introduce the new year that so many around the world celebrate.
Nā reira, e ngā whāea, e ngā mātua, e ngā tamariki, e ngā kaipānui o ēnei rangataki. Hari tau hou, Happy New Year!
rangihīroa, he āmionga kikorangi, ‘the blue orbit’, 2018
E ngā kaipānui tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā ra koutou katoa. Ngā whakawhetai ki a koutou mo te awhi me te tautoko hoki. Hari te ngakau nei e hoko ana koutou ki tā tātou pukapuka. Naaku te rourou, nau te rourou, ka kī te kete.
The following text comprises notes used to prepare for a presentation of ‘Writing Māori Art’ at the City Gallery, Wellington, 25 August 2016. They explore the background to the creation of MAORI ART: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory, Batemans, 2015/2018. Some key themes and motivations for the work are discussed. ‘Writing Maori Art’ has been edited for this particular platform however, it largely follows the question/response format used in the original kōrero. I am offering this as a koha to recognise the hundreds on the publisher’s facebook site that have supported this project and the many who have been visiting this companion site to peruse the MaC I-VII blogs. I hope the kaupapa is useful to those searching for authorial intent.
Writing MAORI ART
It was difficult to know what to prepare here. I wondered who might be attending so I found myself asking questions throughout this kōrero. I have largely kept that initial structure involving enquiry and response. This imagining ones audience and then writing to / for that readership or group is what I think writing a book is about. There were other influences as well. The panel members (Megan Tamati-Quennell, MONZ and Peter Brunt, VUW), that follow this talk, were also interested in hearing about the book’s central river metaphor so I have included some discussion on awa. If you are looking for a brief explanation of the river try this video link.
Lorraine Steele, (Lighthouse NZ PR Book Publicity) assigned by my publisher Batemans to help market ‘Maori Art’, told me prior to its initial launch in June 2015 at Te Uru that books, particularly art books in New Zealand, don’t sell themselves. No great revelation for those involved in publishing here tonight. You would immediately understand the role authorial self-promotion plays in marketing New Zealand books, films indeed all creative activity in Aotearoa. In Auckland, the situation seems grim. With a city of nearly 1.5 million people there is no major window for New Zealand books on Queen Street, or apart from Unity Books, in the central city. Our publicist suggested I take a few months out to travel meet, greet, sign and sell. She was particularly keen on areas of the country with community ties to the book. What sounded like grim advice then makes good business sense now.
So here is my delayed response, eventually following marketing advice. In returning here to Wellington I am re-visiting a site important early on in the creation, the conceptualising, the illustration and in the production of ‘Maori Art’. I lived locally. I taught up the road on Tasman Street at the local Design School. My original publishing contracts were sent here. My first manuscript was created in this town. It was here I began describing to alarmed, possibly bemused readers, I was writing a book on Māori Art that would be centered around the metaphor of a river. My first readers Mary Barr, Jayne Sayle, Garry Nicholas and Luit Bieringa were and still all are locals. I curated a major Māori and a Pacific show, for the Dowse Art Museum and for the City Gallery respectively, prior to living here and I am grateful to Robert Leonard and the City Gallery for letting me continue this legacy in not simply celebrating curating but also writing ‘Maori Art’ with you.
WHY WRITE MAORI ART?
So why write a book on Māori Art? Indeed, why write any book? At risk of personal scrutiny I quote British novelist George Orwell’s essay ‘Why I Write‘ because his account of authorship and motivation provides a useful structure here to work with and against. Writing post world war II (summer 1946) Orwell lays down 4 drives: sheer egotism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose. Some areas resonate more than others. I test a couple of these ideas.
Egotism: taking Orwell’s first motivation. On 11 August 1992 I was offered a contract with Nevill Drury, Publishing Manager, Craftsman House, Australia. Drury writes, ‘Delighted to enclose contracts…I feel this publication will be a very worthwhile addition to the literature on Pacific art. Your book will be distributed internationally, and I think could also attract offers of translation.’ Lofty possibilities indeed. From the point of view of a 28 year old, burnt out from curating a Pacific show and travelling a large Māori exhibition on tour to Australia for Whanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery, this Australian contract was a big deal.
Egotism? Orwell claims, ‘It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one.’ Perhaps initially there is the grand vision but the brutality of 22 sobering years deals to romantic visions: there have been contract losses, institutions neither believing, nor backing and, worse, stalling its publication, job loss, an employment court battle with a Vice Chancellor, reluctance by the ‘community of taste’ to accept my writing and so on. Many of the previous MaC blogs detail this history. The great nineteenth century pacifist Parihaka prophet Te Whiti o Rongomai in 1903 told an historian seeking answers on the land wars, William Baucke, to ‘ask that mountain, Taranaki saw it all.’ For those that continue to have trouble understanding the raruraru behind writing ‘Maori Art’ I would like to quote Te Whiti and say, ask the book – it saw it all.
My disagreement with Orwell stems from the thought that there is not much room for inflated egos when authors are jobless and manuscripts go unpublished. The one abiding passion I had for ‘Maori Art’ was to focus my thinking and creative output on its kaupapa. Others were also important in helping birth it. The photographers, Haruhiko Sameshima and Mark Adams and more recently Tracey Borgfelt the publisher, and publicist Lorraine Steele, believed in this project. For those intent on reading my thoughts in relation to the book I suggest less focus on personality and more on the work itself. That, despite Orwell’s insistance, would be the more rewarding line of enquiry. I think this book does actually follow its own unique path without deviating. Reflectively author Anne Rice‘s perception of what inspired her about the focus in Franz Kafka’s writing seems to fit this kaupapa:
‘Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.’
SO WHAT IS MAORI ART ABOUT?
Orpan River, airstrip, village, and Anguganak bluff – upper right
The book references or is influenced by four river types. The personal, the tribal, the Austronesian and the cosmological. These four layers underpin the selection of material and the central metaphor and they make sense of the force relations contained within the chapters. Regarding the first and third rivers, I was born in Angugunak bluff amongst the mountainous rainforest of the Western Sepik district of Papua New Guinea. I lived alongside the Northern Wairoa River (river II), out on the West Coast at Bayleys Beach or Ripiro (during my childhood/early adolescence), alongside the Whanganui River (during my work as a curator – river II) and on the South Kaipara Head (during my time teaching tertiary in Tāmaki – river II and IV).
Mark Adams, north Kaipara looking out from towards the waha mouth of the Wairoa ki te Tai Tokerau River,
In the broader sense ‘Maori Art’ makes a case for a cultural river comprising ocean currents that take people, cosmologies, visual and spoken languages and whakapapa out of ancient China, insular Asia into the Near and Distant Pacific. Eventually this diaspora leads to bottle necks of culture comprising the Lapita peoples further north and to the West and Eastern Polynesian gatherings centred on islands like Rangiātea and Rarotonga through which the very last southern migration of human beings on the planet took place. Those people have become known as Māori in the south and Maoli in Hawai’i.
rangihīroa, gardenia hand, 2017
As with the visual motifs explored in MAORI ART this flower is found in a number of sites, throughout the world, associated with our Austronesian ancestors: Southern China, Taiwan, Madagascar and the Pacific.
WHERE ELSE MIGHT I FEEL ‘MAORI ART’ RESONATES ORWELL’S SUMMARY REGARDING MOTIVATIONS?
The aesthetic area. There is an interest in the sound of words and a passion for this helps drive imagery and design. Further, in political terms Orwell also talks about the, ‘Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.’ In ‘Maori Art’ the society I envisage is one where locals and those overseas are more discerning about how they see, describe, interpret, endorse and market particular types of Māori art. Two whole chapters are devoted to communities that base themselves around two very different extremes – the orthodoxy of Sir Āpirana Ngata and the modernism of Ralph Hotere. Perhaps to the surprise of some I don’t see either position as solely or idealistically encapsulating the society or artform for which we should strive.
Orwell finally talks about writing possessing an historical impulse. Again I don’t wholly agree with the definition. Historicity in ‘Maori Art’ is tied up with Asia Pacific and concepts of the past not as teleological so much as ancestral and in flux or in continuum. Mark Twain once described the Mississippi as iconic in the sense that it embodied the recent history of his nation (not to be confused with First Nation concepts of history). I used the river metaphor and various states of water in flow because I believe they too embody our unique history in this part of the world.
More than this I saw the river as an inclusive form that embraces all.
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.