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Maori and Pacific artist’s reflections mirror contemporary anxieties and unease in new exhibition

Reviewed by John Day-Peoples

Jaimie Waititi, ReMoanafication: Time is a Space

Moana Waiwai, Moana Pāti

Tautai Gallery, 300 Karangahape Road, Auckland

Until September 25

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust has just opened Moana Waiwai, Moana Pāti, which brings together work by nine artists who produced work during the 2020-2021 Covid-19 lockdowns.

The works in the exhibition are by Salvador Brown, Melissa Gilbert, Lyncia Müller, Tuāfale Tanoa’i AKA Linda T, Ashleigh Taupaki, Jasmine Tuiā, Christopher Ulutupu, Tyla Vaeau and Jaimie Waititi. They  include film, digital image-making, painting, tatau, poetic prose, sonic landscapes and performance.

Curated by Nigel Borell, who produced the block buster contemporary Maori art show Toi Tu Toi Ora at the Auckland Art Gallery says the title of this exhibition Moana Waiwai, Moana Pāti, can be poetically translated as “from open seas to the shallow waters,” which Borell explains is a fitting metaphor for what has been an exceptional year worldwide.

Several of the works in the exhibition focus on the domestic and the intimate. These personal reflections mirror the anxieties and unease which have affected individuals and wider society alike.

Lyncia Müller’s video work “Promise Corners” features the artist performing dance exercises  but within the confines of her own home rather than dance studio. Her movements are those of a dancer or gymnast preparing for a performance. We see her performing in the lounge, the hallway and  the kitchen where the traditional ballet barre is replaced by the kitchen bench.

The work contrasts the distance between the normality of the practice session with proper equipment and other participants and the aberration  of the individual performing alone. The piece also emphasises the power and splendour of the body being pushed to the extreme.

Salvador Brown’s poetic work DigiTa VaSa fuses the traditional sounds of the conch with electronic noise along with a tapping sound which could be the tattooist chisel or a tapping on a keyboard. These sounds  are complemented by sweeping visuals of the sea meeting the sky and the images of birds, all linking to memory and transition.

Christopher Ulutupu’s slightly surreal videos draw on the tradition of the tableau paintings  in which characters are arranged for picturesque or dramatic effect and appear absorbed and completely unaware of the existence of the viewer. “Horse” features a nervous hose tethered to a clapped-out trick with two impassive figures – a lounging Adonis and an oblivious female. There is a subtle narrative with the horse providing the emotional tension. In Saltworks where five people lounge around open saltwater baths is a celebration of the commonplace.

Christopher Ulutupu, Saltbaths

Both these works are like visual haiku, reflections on the beauty and insignificance of the everyday.

Exhibiting close by on a construction wall in East St are works by two other artists Ashleigh Taupaki’s and Jaimie Waititi

Ashleigh Taupaki’s “Paradise” links the ideas of paradise with Paradise Beach in Samoa, from with alternating panels bear text and images. The texts are like diary entries commenting on her grandmothers’ everyday interests and activities. These recalled events are slowly weathering from wind and sun and the words  are fading as though her recollection are being lost. The work cleverly generally brings together oral traditions, mythologies  and memories.

The artist has also made simple paintings of Samoan plants which her grandmother has described to her. These rudimentary botanical images are like childlike descriptions of the natural world capturing the essence if not the detail.

Jaimie Waititi’s “ReMoanafication: Time is a space” uses  text and imagery as a call to action in understanding and reclaiming the history of Maori. The texts are  like adverting or political slogans with a density of meaning which says more than the simple statements.

All artists exhibiting in Moana Waiwai, Moana Pāti participated in Tautai’s Fale-ship programme, an initiative born out of the Covid-19 lockdowns to support artists working across a range of artistic disciplines to develop and make work at home. It is the first of two group exhibitions showcasing Tautai’s Fale-ship artists.

Tautai Director Courtney Sina Meredith says, “During the Covid-19 lockdowns, our priority was to support our artistic community to make, create and connect. The unique circumstances of isolation have impacted creative work in a number of ways. This year, our focus as an organisation is to redress the isolation of those lockdowns and work to bring our community back together, into our gallery space, to share work, talanoa and celebrate all that is Pacific creativity.”

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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