What is a pacifist supposed to do at an ANZAC Day service? How is the Centenary programme shaping young people’s views of war? Are we remembering real people or does the ‘spectacle’ get in the way?
These were some of the questions sparked at Connah Podmore’s talk at the weekend. Her installation of around 150 postcards written by Wairarapa residents to remember those who died in WW1 is currently on display in the Aratoi foyer.
Connah grew up in Lower Hutt and studied at Massey School of Fine Arts. She decided to explore memorials and alternative ways of remembering as her MA project.
Her first step was to make a blanket for her great grandfather Frank McKenna, who fought at Gallipoli and the Western Front, woven from photocopies of his letters. Looking over his war medals and papers drew her into his story but it was only when she actually started writing letters to him that she made a deeper connection.
“No one was talking back so I talked about my own life to him. It was as though I was writing to a real person. I felt like I’d crossed the gap between his history and my own, and started to see the similarities,” she says.
Her work took a surreal turn when she posted one of her letters to a Cairo address she’d found on a postcard sent by Frank. With no expectation of a reply, it was still a poignant act.
She realized she could give others the chance to connect and the resulting cards bear thoughtful messages to family members, and thoughts on war and peace.
“[During the project] I have come up against perceptions that have challenged my own, and I hope that those who participated will also be able to say the same,” she says.
The exhibition has also been displayed at Pukaha Mount Bruce and Tararua College.  Connah Podmore: Writing to History, until 4 Oct.
Connah’s postcard project was part of her 2015 ANZAC Bridge Fellowship at New Zealand Pacific Studio. She visited schools in the district and ran workshops at New Zealand Pacific Studio and other venues.
People of all ages responded. Here is one by Warren Chase:
Whakakaha te Aroha
Whakamaumahara te maumau
Strengthen the love
Remember the waste.
Connah also wrote a postcard to Alfred Faulkner, engineer of the ANZAC Bridge at Kaiparoro, who lost a son and nephew at Gallipoli. Local group The Friends of ANZAC Bridge marks the 100th anniversary of the death of each person featured on the bridge, and on 28 August will be remembering Alfred’s son Victor.
There will be an Open Day at New Zealand Pacific Studio on Sunday 23 August, 2-5pm with writer, poet and educator Melanie Carter (USA / Egypt) and illustrator and designer Sunshine Herbert (Melbourne).