Two exhibitions are running in Masterton that explore different aspects of life, nature and identity in New Zealand.
Pūwawau brings together work by four Maori women artists, all with links to the Massey Maori Visual Arts course in Palmerston North, as either current or recently graduated students. The other is titled 5 Elements, at Lennox Design Studio & Gallery, next to Hedleys, featuring work by five artists who have recently participated in the New Zealand Art Show.
Two of the Pūwawau artists have a direct connection to the Wairarapa, made explicit in their work. Terri Te Tau’s installation Unregistered and unwarranted is proving a magnet for children in the gallery, and would be any teenage ‘bro’s’ dream: it is a blinged out sliding door van with privacy windows and glitter upholstery. In place of a conventional windscreen is a digital screen which, when viewed from inside, runs a video loop of a trip through Greytown, accompanied by a soundtrack of a crooning waiata. Terri’s wall label – a clever and intriguing prose piece in its own right – tells us that the van is also a waka / refuge in a sterile futuristic world where, perhaps due to all pervasive technological surveillance, there is no place to hide, no place to ‘be’ in the way we used to understand it.
Rongomaiaia Te Whaiti’s theme is ‘Wānanga’, which means a place and a process of tribal knowledge and learning. She makes the connection with the Wairarapa through the fact that Te Whatahoro Jury gathered and recorded the teachings of Te Mātorohanga and Nēpia Pōhūhū in the Wairarapa Whare Wānanga of the 1860s, at Papawai.
Like all of the works in this show, Rongomaiaia’s paintings have a depth and richness due to layers of meaning and an underpinning with research into Maori culture, something that is encouraged on the Massey programme. On one level, Rongomaiaia’s paintings are realistic portraits of a seated woman looking directly out to the viewer, appearing to gesture, speak and signal to us. However the loose brushstrokes and swirling tones seem to evoke another dimension, perhaps the rich heritage of whakapapa that surrounds her, and the network of interlinked, ever evolving korero that gives rise to words and ideas, inspiring her to communicate in the present and forward into future.
As a sequence, the paintings attempt to do something quite new and ambitious: to document the evolution of an idea, a word: “When we gather we talk, and the talking itself is a gathering…in momentum…then the thought like dust, eventually settle…” she says.
Bridget Reweti takes obsidian (matā) as her touchstone object in a series of mysterious and exquisite oval photographs commenting on the iconic scenic and tourist sites of New Zealand. Obsidian, a black natural glass formed from hardened volcanic lava, was one of the most widely traded stones in pre-European times, and was used for cutting. Obsidian from Mayor Island (Tūhua) was known as matā tūhua.
Along with Terri Te Tau’s van, Te Wharepora - a massive synthetic fur blanket hanging from the south wall of the gallery - was a tactile and appealing surface for children at the opening, along with Karangawai Marsh’s He tara iti; colourful modular blocks referring to the space on the left hand side of a meeting house from where the local people speak. The fake mink blanket has become a popular accessory for those staying overnight at marae. In the hands of the Mata Aho Collective, who made this piece, it becomes a statement about outsourcing industry to China and the commodification of culture. At the opening of this show, one of the Massey tutors Ngatai Taepa praised the artists here as “women who stand tall, stand strong and show us the way”. They have certainly devised dynamic ways to communicate and investigate aspects of their culture, a ‘korero’ that is of value to all New Zealanders.
Currently showing at Aratoi: Pūwawau, until 15 September; Intersecting / Intersections – Barry Ellis, until 1 September. Raquel Esquives: Silhouettes and 28 Days, until 25 August; Square & Compasses – Freemasonry in New Zealand, until 8 September.