M A O R I A R T C u r a t o r II
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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 New Zealand, 22 October 2014
‘Nations and peoples are largely the stories that they feed themselves. If they tell themselves stories that are lies they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face their own truths they will free their histories for future flowerings.’
Nigerian poet Ben Okiri
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 2003 thesis and in my 2015 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:
This thesis introduces important new ways of interpreting the development of traditional and contemporary Maori art within a culturally specific paradigm. It leads to thought-provoking criticism of current art historical approaches to Māori art and constitutes probably the first sustained critique of the modern development of Māori art from an authentic Māori point of view. This is a much needed and timely perspective on Māori art.
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 the book.
Events over the past 2 years have helped open up ‘greater public accessability’ to Toi Tāhuhu. Members of whānau, hapū, iwi and the arts and academic community were present at the launch of Māori Art at Te Uru in June 2015. It’s follow-up IOU: Māori Art the book + exhibition, Tivoli Galleryhttps://pihirau.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/IMG_2090.jpg, Waiheke Island (March/April 2016) attracted further local interest. More widely it would have been difficult for New Zealanders involved with the arts to miss out on or not acknowledge buzz that had occurred. There was national media coverage (TVNZ, national/Maori/student Radio interviews, newspapers, a number of NZ periodicals and other social media platforms) as well as a national (Māori) and an international (Māori/Pacific) book award. What is it these people don’t feel they have witnessed? What else are they going to ignore? All of the achievements and events, rightly celebrating Maori Art, are covered in the publisher’s facebook site https://www.facebook.com/maoriartbook/
It’s also a bit hard to not acknowledge other members of the museum 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:
His work at the University of Auckland laid the groundwork for Maori Art. This book is Rangi’s magnus opus and it is a book like no other. It is a big ambitious, encompassing project, it addresses basic questions about the frameworks through which Maori art has been, can be and should be discussed. It is a provocative piece of work which necessarily has its fans and its critics but it is something that anyone who seeks to work in this area will now have to contend with. It changes the landscape.’
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 sources for 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.
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.
The comments/prophesies are affirming but also uncomfortable and very 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 for 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 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 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 (July 8, 1993) I presented a paper ‘How will the Bellbird Sing?…’ in conjunction with some music recently recorded with Phil Fuemana. 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 (blame Julio, the photographer, I’m not sleeping honestly!) 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 is very much 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 so centrally laid down? 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 Māori and 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’) 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 period 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. 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 Te Māori. 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 Public Collections, and its purpose are clearly outlined by a heritage historian (see MaC I) documenting Sarjeant history.
This exhibition and supporting catalogue highlighted the woeful attention to collecting in this [i.e contemporary Māori] area (with the exception of the work of Ralph Hotere) across the country.
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 Aho Rua 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.
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 an Extensions Officer (Curator). 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 Te Maori. 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. What I am suggesting here is this re-alignment deserved far more careful and detailed attention by the Wellington based art historian. The Māori curatorial history at the Sarjeant is every bit as important as the more successful phases of Māori curatorial history that were to occur later in the capital’s central institutions.
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.
Opening ones institution up to greater scrutiny, 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), 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. 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 bother but feel comfortable with Whanganui as prime portal for their visual culture.
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 Huakina installation, 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 rejected by the national institution. ‘Te Wepu’ (Matchitt’s inspiration), the whip that Te Kooti promised would be applied to the land, 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 were welcome 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.
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 Mina McKenzie) 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, to present keynote address, ‘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
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. 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 Gallery was a much larger venue. In Poneke 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. A Dominion review, Wellington 1991, suggests to its 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:
The first exhibition to focus on contemporary Pacific art in a civic gallery in New Zealand was Te Moemoea no Iotefa...The exhibition thematized the presence of Pacific culture in New Zealand society, introduced community-based arts like tivaevae into the contemporary gallery, and canvassed the work of migrant artists like Fatu Feu'u, Johnny Penisula, Michel Tuffery and others, only then beginning to garner serious public attention. But it was the title that was the most prescient about its own historical significance. The title was borrowed from the title of a tivaevae it showed, and refers to the biblical story of Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, eventually to rise to a position of power in the Pharoah's court. Joseph's dream turns out to be an allegory of the moment of recognition when, as an exile, he reveals himself to his brothers as the important person he has become. The ambiguity of the allegory lies in the question of whether recognition in Egypt or escape from Egypt (if we can pardon the Orientalism) is the preferable goal.
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.
Actually both shows had large numbers of ‘old’ taonga in them. As to the insinuation that ‘old’ carvings (the kind I drew on from the Whanganui Regional Museum and many other collections) are a more important measurement of…is it the authenticity of Māori visual culture being referenced here? The rather singular focus of orthodoxy on simply the ‘old’ and the ‘authentic’ is one of the key reasons I developed ‘a new Māori art history’ that describes Māori art in continuum (see 2003 PhD) – Toi Tāhuhu.
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 does not solve more pressing concerns. How, for example, does an indigenous visual culture maintain floriferous creativity through a winter of colonisation? How does an indigenous visual culture maintain floriferous creativity, more naturally, outside the centre?
The next post looks at the legacy of the Dominion Museum Director Augustus Hamilton and his book MAORI ART as Maori Art Curator: at the Centre on the Margins continues.