Kerrie Hughes & Wairarapa Archive - 40 Mile Bush

Kerrie Hughes & Wairarapa Archive - Scandinavian settlement of the Wairarapa

Kerrie Hughes’ exhibition at Aratoi draws from her background in fashion design. Her series of otherworldly paintings reflect a visual saga of her ancestors who came to New Zealand from “Old World Zealand” in Denmark to settle the 40 Mile Bush.

The large portable murals on hessian are influenced by Verdure Tapestries and create an atmosphere in which the viewer is at the same time participant.

Kerrie Hughes’ ancestors arrived in the 1870s to the Scandinavian Camp at Kopuaranga before moving to their plot of land in the 40 Mile Bush. Her great grandmother Wilhelmina was the first of her ancestors to be born on New Zealand soil. 

The Scandinavians called the area Mellemskov, or Heart of the Forest, and in her painting Utangard – which means beyond the enclosure and refers to the wild, chaotic and anarchic – the Mauriceville Scandinavian church sits on the horizon.

Hughes imagines the Danes as “Vikings sailing the oceans to conquer the 40 Mile Bush in the New World. I see them as axemen from the north and their enemy the forest. When researching for photos of the forest, I realised that it was gone. They had conquered it.”

She writes, “The Danes lived in isolation in the primeval forest, felling it to create a Nordic village (Mauriceville). The first generation spoke only Danish and carried on with Danish customs… I present the bush through their Scandinavian imagination – exotic, strange, primeval, and I depict them as incongruous Wilde Folk in a primordial Eden.”

A menagerie of creatures: eel, pukeko, tui, huia, goat, hawk, kiwi, kereru, deer, tuatara, with huge rata vines, a canopy of gold and silver leaf, and Scandinavian mythology projected onto the bush.

“I have portrayed birds as Fylgjas (a person's spirit or guardian in animal form) which can be recognised by their blue eyes. Other patches allude to ancestor worship, for example an offering to my great grandmother of her favourite pansy flower, or a hand holding the floral symbol of Denmark, a red clover.”

An historical exhibition on Scandinavian settlement in the Wairarapa, prepared by Wairarapa Archive and Aratoi, supplements the paintings.  

Meet the artist on Friday, 5 July at 5.30pm for the opening, with guest speaker Judith Fyfe, or on Saturday morning, 6th July at 11am, for a public talk with Kerrie Hughes and Gareth Winter, facilitated by Paul Diamond, Curator Māori, Alexander Turnbull Library.

The exhibition continues until 6 October, and Aratoi acknowledges Bowen Galleries, Wellington. 

Aratoi is open daily.