A view from the shore
The historical fallacy of the European ‘discovery’ of Aotearoa New Zealand is challenged in the exhibition He Tirohanga ki Tai (A view from the shore).
While the notion Lieutenant James Cook discovered New Zealand has long been obsolete in these parts, the British explorer’s arrival is said to syill be “celebrated by some as a discovery”.
The exhibition aims to challenge that view.
“In the time we proposed the exhibition that word (discovery) was being used,” says Reuben Friend, curator for He Tirohanga ki Tai: Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery.
“There was a lot of discussion nationally for the promotion of the Tuia Encounters 250 celebration of encounters between Captain Cook and Maori. A lot of people in the general public used the term. The term is irrelevant. The exhibition is a result of that.”
He Tirohanga ki Tai is both an exhibition and forum with a political/cultural base. The exhibition’s Facebook page says: “Rather than facilitating discussions around the false mythology of discovery, this exhibition provides an indigenous perspective on European encounter and engagement with Maori and Pacific peoples through art, lectures, workshops and performances,
“Artists contributing to the exhibition seek to permanently dismantle racist ideologies such as ‘discovery’ and terra nullius that were used to justify the immoral invasion and colonisation of indigenous nations in Aotearoa New Zealand and Te Moananui-a-Kiwa.”
Activist Tina Ngata proposed the idea for He Tirohanga ki Tai: Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery.
“Tina was interested in how the focus was put out there to celebrate the encounters between Cook and Maori,” says Friend.
“That’s how it began.”
EXHIBITION AS FORUMFriend’s role as curator was to find artists and select artworks for the exhibition.
“The artists are a combination of friends and artists we knew had interesting perspectives. We tried to get a combination of independent, senior artists alongside younger, emerging artists. That’s a real Maori way of working together in artistic practice.”
Indigenous empowerment organisation, Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, is the exhibition’s main sponsor. The US-based organisation is dedicated to the promotion of indigenous peoples’ self-determination and the sovereignty of native nations.
“I think they would have seen we are on the cusp of change in the narrative,” says Friend.
“We’ve lived through a generation where those narratives were traditional. The exhibition is a consolidation of those viewpoints.”
He Tirohanga ki Tai: Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery includes art, lectures, workshops and performances by Tane Ma, Robyn Kahukiwa, Rachael Rakena, Ngahina Hohaia, Tina Ngata, Michel Tuffery, and Tawera Tahuri among others.
Alongside the exhibition will be a series of talks and public forums on the perpetuation of the discovery mythology.
“Different people have different views on Cook,” says Friend.
“It’s about reaching resolution in a post-Treaty context. Cook as a character ends up being a figurehead for the whole history of colonisation.
“There’s a bigger picture. We have a range of artists who speak to that. It’s important not to censor artists who are opposed to Cook or who want to make political comments about Te Ha or Tuia Encounters 250.
“We’re trying to use the exhibition as a forum. The kaupapa is set by the exhibition. It’s a beautiful show. There are some post-modern works and clever, cerebral, conceptual works.”
THE ART OF COMPLEXITYPerformance will be part of the exhibition as well as contemporary works by artists such as Rachel Rakena who uses the term “toi rerehiko” (art that employs electricity, movement and light) to describe her practice. As a mainly collaborative artist, Rakena’s work has previously worked with sculptor Brett Graham, soundscape artist Keri Whaitiri, and dancers and choreographers from the Atamaira Dance Collective.
Artist Tane Ma’s interactive digital piece, Resolution, is based on Nathaniel Dance’s 1776 portrait of Cook. As the viewer approaches it the portrait increasingly pixellates into a pattern suggestive of a tukutuku panel design.
The title is a play on the name of the ship Cook captained on his second and third voyages of exploration in the Pacific. It also refers to the struggle towards reconciliation as previously unheard stories are incorporated into recorded history. This is why the homonyms “rewriting” and “re-righting” interest the artist.
“Revisionism is a default position of hurt,” says Friend.
“What does resolution look like. What does the future look like in the post-resolution era?”
Work from Michel Tuffery’s series of paintings about Cook, botanist Joseph Banks and Tahitian navigator/Arioi religious order member Tupaia feature in the exhibition. Born in Wellington but of Samoan, Tahitian and Rarotongan descent, Tuffery takes an inclusive view of art and identity in the Pacific. His 2012 digital installation, First Contact, questioned the period of European “discovery” of the South Pacific. In an earlier work, his 2008 painting, Cookie in the Cook Islands, Tuffery depicted the Yorkshire mariner with Polynesian features and flowers in his hair. “Cookie” is a throwaway name for a Cook Islander, he said at the time but he often refers to the explorer as Cookie as if he was a personal friend.
“The exhibition is more complex than just vilifying Cook as a great coloniser,” says Friend.
He Tirohanga ki Tai: Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery opens tomorrow at Tairawhiti Museum.