This was sent to us as a media release:
Mahara Gallery Director-curator Janet Bayly makes no apologies for the provocative potential of the Gallery’s current exhibitions, which address the impact of colonization on Aotearoa, New Zealand from different perspectives.
“Let’s NOT Celebrate Captain Cook” by Maori artist Robyn Kahukiwa in particular challenges the accepted interpretation of Captain Cook’s visits to New Zealand.
Amokura is included in the NZ Arts Festival and showcases work by Erena Baker and Reweti Arapere. It is concerned with the healthy continuance of Maori culture in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand but as Janet Bayly says, “in a less directly illustrative or overtly politicised way”.
It has been the Robyn Kahukiwa exhibition which has attracted most attention in the context of the recent Tuia 250 commemorations. In her artist’s statement, she said: “many Māori are distressed and angered by this celebration and memorialising of Captain James Cook. I am one of them”.
Robyn Kahukiwa has been painting, printmaking, illustrating and writing books concerned with Maori culture and identity, history and politics, for almost fifty years.
Australian born, she re-established her ties with her Maori cultural heritage when she returned to New Zealand aged 18. This journey of discovery was fundamental to her beginning as an artist alongside her roles as a mother and an art teacher.
A Waikanae resident has taken exception to Kahukiwa’s exhibition. In a message published on website Waikanae Watch, the resident labelled Kahukiwa’s exhibition as racist, derogatory, dishonest, divisive and ignorant.
The writer accepted the artist’s right to express her views but challenged Mahara Gallery’s wisdom in deciding to display her work.
Janet Bayly says that as the district gallery for Kapiti, Mahara has a responsibility to show artists with sincerely-held viewpoints who are respected for their work, regardless of how controversial their viewpoint might be.
“Robyn Kahukiwa has a strong identity as a founding Maori woman artist from the 1970s and 1980s, known for her Wahine Toa strong women series which represented women in the Maori creation stories” she says. “She has also since depicted harrowing social, cultural and political dilemmas in her work.
“She is committed to telling what she regards as the true story of Cook’s visit in contrast to what she and other Maori consider to be a skewed or incomplete narrative.
“The widely accepted European view of Cook has largely celebrated and honoured him as a well-intentioned adventuring explorer rather than a brutal colonising agent of imperial Britain whose actions in the view of Robyn Kahukiwa, impacted on tangata whenua.
“It’s not for us as a Gallery to agree or disagree with these interpretations. It’s our responsibility to ensure that people in Kapiti have the opportunity to view the art works and come to their own conclusions,” she says.
Janet Bayly says both exhibitions deal with the cultural heritage of Maori and passing on matauranga Maori (traditional and inter-generational cultural knowledge).
“They also emphasise the strong connections between people in Maori culture (whakapapa, through iwi and hapu) and land (Papatuanuku) to each new generation.”
She says Erena Baker and Reweti Arapere are part of the new generation of contemporary Maori artists who work across multi-media and in collaborative ways, echoing the earlier generation of Robyn Kahukiwa and her contemporary women artists.
They reframe Aotearoa New Zealand in complex imagery which blends iconography from art forms such as tukutuku with western media such as photography and print-making.
“They are also connected with a very active international movement of indigenous artists who share ideas and experiences across Canada, North America, Asia, Europe and the Pacific, and who often work collaboratively,” says Janet Bayly.
Both hold a Master of Māori Visual Arts from Toioho ki Apiti School of Māori Studies, Massey University and have exhibited both throughout Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally.
Erena Baker and Reweti Arapere will be giving a free floor talk in their exhibition on Wednesday 4 March at 11am, all welcome.
Comment by Roger Childs:
Obviously Mahara Gallery can exhibit what they like, however, they need to recognise that the messages in the exhibition’s works have no basis in fact. The comfortable lifestyle the painter enjoys today is a legacy of Captain Cook. If she had lived in early 19th century NZ, she would very likely be killed and eaten after a battle, or raped and enslaved.
Comment by John Robinson:
It takes a book, or books, to deal with such by explaining, exploring and telling of the true history. Kapiti Historical Society had a good talk by John McLean last year, which was not challenged in any way.
The claim that Cook was a ‘brutal colonising agent’ is a monstrous lie. One point is that Britain refused to take New Zealand as a colony then or for many years later, recognised New Zealand as Maori territory, and came only in 1840 when invited by chiefs, who celebrated the event, signed the Treaty and – for the most part – held to it. My book on Hone Heke, which will be out in some weeks, describes how Heke was a hothead who acted against his senior chiefs, who took up arms to defeat him, in cooperation with British troops.
How on earth a woman, claiming to be a feminist, could celebrate the brutal treatment of women in traditional Maori society is beyond me. There are so many reports of their life of drudgery in periods of peace, with rape, death and cannibalism, or slavery (as a concubine, described as ‘taken for wife’) following any of the many inter-tribal battles.