An attempt to clarify what these three approaches (i.e. writing/painting/curating) might mean in the gallery context.
Map of ancestral mountain, ko Whatitiri te maunga, ko Te Uriroroi te hapū, Maungārongo te mārae, Porotī te hau kāinga
Oxford Definition of ‘indebtedness’.
IOU Māori Art the book + exhibition (currently on display at Tivoli, Waiheke Island) is an experimental look at what it might mean to write a book and then paint and curate a show about that book. I could perhaps have retreated into the easy response a number of artists make quoting senior Māori painter Ralph Hotere. His aphorism suggests art should speak for itself. Perhaps it might be said that a book should be left to do the same. In my particular case the publication Māori Art: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory co-published with David Batemans Ltd is certainly large and detailed enough (352 pages, a large body of images including many specially commissioned ones) in itself to create its own satisfying world.
However, what I found in visually working with key ideas in the book was that there are so many ways to explore and open up text and narrative that art potentially takes the published work in lots of exciting new directions. Curatorially the labelling of the show along with compositional elements in the painting help provide a whole range of other layers with which to read the book. Text in the exhibition space refers the viewer as reader back to particular points in the book. Art brings a whole other level of enquiry to the writing.
Sometimes the technical approach of specific artworks provided a rich interface with published ideas. In Māori Art, for example, I was working with the key idea of palimpsest as an ambitiously local way of reading Māori art within a 5 – 6000 year timespan that included its proto Polynesian, Austronesian and proto-Austronesian beginnings in the Pacific, Island Asia and earlier in Southern China. The layering I maintained had to be translucent and accumulatively luminous. I referenced the idea in chapter 2 ‘Te Hana’. I also drew on other histories. I love the oil technique developed by the Northern European painters and in particular that pioneered by Jan and Hubert van Eyck. The palimpsest metaphor that I worked with leant itself to encaustic (i.e raw natural ground pigments mixed with purified and heated beeswax). This is a much quicker version of the oil glazing I have also admired in works like the Ghent Altarpiece whose centrepiece I featured in chapter 2. What I liked about encaustic was that it physically described what I was alluding to in the text. It also, in its layered process, demonstrated the idea of obscuring and at the same time transmitting in part information from deeper layers into the final painting surface.
Rangihīroa Panoho, Pao pao te wai, Waipao te awa, acrylic on canvas, 2016. ‘Waipao is the river in which my illustrious ancestors used to drink and immerse themselves. Today it is shallow’, encaustic on Oregon pine, 2016, photograph: Haruhiko Sameshima
The river with which Te Uriroroi identify is named after the flush of water in summer from the Whatitiri puna that was so powerful the motion caused boulders and rocks to clash and clatter into one another. Pao refers to the striking smashing motion of the water.
I created a book on a broad ranging art historical topic with a specific whānau ‘family’ and tribal kaupapa ‘foundation’. Painting and the broader exhibition is letting me tell other connected stories that, while not appropriate in a general publication, are entirely suited to the intimacy of exhibition space. A viewer can walk around an interior and visually discover those connections. I found that there were many ways to open up the sacred landscape sites in my Tai Tokerau rohe that I had only been able to document, in collaboration with the photographers Mark Adams and Haruhiko Sameshima, in the book. There is, for instance, a big difference between showing the public a published image of our sacred maunga Whatitiri and by contrast presenting it as a physical object that brings with it a more tangible human history. Currently my Te Uriroroi hapū are, for example, having their historical grievances over land and water loss and rights of ownership heard by the Waitangi Tribunal.
Water and an ancestral connection with protest is part of the videographer whānaunga Nova Paul’s 2018 work that looked at both the centrality of Waipao river to Te Uriroroi and the 1895 sit in of our ancestor, our namesake Henare Panoho atop Okoihu (our Te Parawhau tūpuna Kūkupa’s pā tūwatawata at the feet of our ancestral maunga Whatitiri – see painting below) to protest the Crown’s breaking up of our ancestral lands on Maunga Whatitiri (see map above) into 15 farms sold to colonial settlers.
I see Henare Panoho as part of the fabric of the water at Kawanui puna where Mark Adams and I photographed.
Wai 2058 pops up as regularly in the painting as Yueh (the reference to the ancient ‘axe’ peoples who occupied Southern China prior to the Han invasion).
Rangihīroa Panoho, Yueh, ‘The People of the Axe’, encaustic on board with kauri villa window frame, 2016
Art can become a refreshing way with which to resonate the importance of this local grid of identity and the more ancient layers of symbol and pattern that connect Asia\Pacific peoples. Art potentially can help both the reader and the gallery viewer to move between antiquity and the everyday realities that face a contemporary indigenous people struggling with the burden of their recent ‘colonial’ histories. The three dimensional nature of a gallery is helpful in this regard. Accumulatively the photographs and paintings in IOU completely surround their viewer with their interconnected narratives. They demonstrate an instantaneous awareness that I have always loved about curated imagery. The kaupapa of an artist, a curator and a gallery (sometimes including the architecture) can be read through the experience of the unity of the objects within their exhibited space. I am not claiming that this happens with all shows. What I am saying is that with carefully thought through and well executed exhibitions it is conceivable that a viewer can immediately grasp the essence of a show.
It would be interesting to know whether any of these issues resonate with the curatorial, artistic and publishing efforts of other business people out there. For those wondering what art shows have to do with books and why a book might not speak for itself one point might be worth noting. In New Zealand there are very limited marketing opportunities to showcase publications in a sustained and meaningful way that connects a book with a reader or with an institution (i.e those who will eventually purchase the product). Downtown Auckland has 1 small bookshop (Unity Books) that helps showcase, among other publications, New Zealand books. The ratio of 1 small central store per 1.5 million people (in a country of only 4.6 million) perhaps helps clarify an urgent need for creative thinking around how to connect a market with a publication. Getting people to meet authors is a key way of selling a work to the public. Following this line of thinking exhibitions are a useful way of introducing an audience to a book. If you are local come and visit the IOU show and test some of my ideas at Tivoli on Waiheke. You may even want to tie a trip in with one of the many festivals (international jazz, wine and food…) on what is still a beautiful and unique part of the Auckland coastal region. Good things can come from small places.
Mark Adams, Te Wairere a Miru, Wairua Falls, Mangakāhia valley, near Porotī, near Whāngārei, 6 January 1995, collection: author
Rangihīroa Panoho, Te Wairere a Miru, 2 September, 2012, acrylic inks and watercolour on board