Unnerved: The New Zealand Project

Yvonne ToddMonday, 10 January 2011

Unnerved: The New Zealand Project

Unnerved: The New Zealand Project is the second region-specific exhibition from the Queensland Art Gallery, currently on view at the National Gallery of Victoria. It focuses on New Zealand’s contemporary art, and includes paintings, drawings, watercolours, sculpture, photography, installation, video and performance works by such New Zealand artists as Michael Parekowai, Mark Adams, Gavin Hipkins, Lisa Reihana, Duncan Cole, Greg Semu, Yvonne Todd, John Pule, Shane Cotton, Lorene Taurerewa, and numerous others.

The exploration of New Zealand’s contemporary culture and post-colonial identity is the common thread that unites the works of disparate genres and diverse media in the show. The majority of artists in this exhibition are of Maori, Samoan and other Pacific Islanders’ descent, which informs many of the works. Their “bi-cultural” concerns as well as the underlying psychological darkness can (perhaps) only be related in this country to the works of some of our urban indigenous artists.

New Zealand’s natural, breathtaking beauty provides a wonderful source of inspiration to such landscape photographers as Mark Adams (1949-), who poetically captures in Indian Island 360* Panorama (1998/2006) an important site of historic significance. The country’s people, places, and playgrounds allowed Gavin Hipkins (1968-) to explore the country’s composite cultural identity – from high to low and everything in-between – in a complex photographic installation The Homely (1997-2000) that spans the length of three walls.

Michael Parekowhai’s (1968-) giant rabbit greets the visitors as they enter the National Gallery; it’s Disney-like cuteness belies the artist’s concern about the impact of rabbits, introduced species, on New Zealand’s environment. In a similar vein is his Acts II, which disguises tools of colonisation as a DYI die-cast plastic toy set. His black seal balancing a giant piano on the tip of its nose in The Horn of Africa echo the topographical outlines of New Zealand and reference the reputation of the North Island as a business and cultural hub, and of the South Island as a tourist attraction.

Greg Semu - Self PortraitDuncan Cole (1968-) and Shigeyuki Kihara (1975-) reprise in their works popular 19th-Century photographs of New Zealand’s “ethnographic specimens”, replacing them with a cast of contemporary characters, which are representative of the “new tribes” within the present-day street culture. Greg Semu’s (1971-) self-portraits explore traditional Maori body tattoos, pe’a, in the context of the contemporary male nude photography.

Western European culture and traditional iconographies of Maori, Samoa, and other Pacific Island groups continue to collide in paintings by John Pule (1962-) and Shane Cotton (1964-); while the most exquisite ink drawings of Lorene Taurerewa (1961-), Psychopompe, pick up the dark psychological undertones which are prevalent throughout the exhibition, including Yvonne Todd’s (1973-) exquisite portrait photographs that ruminate about  the universality of America-centric dreams of ideal beauty and white weddings, or Anne Noble’s (1954-) “mutilations” of her daughter’s tongue.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

January 2011


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