Reviews, News and Commentary

Walters Prize won by Maureen Lander and The Mata Aho Collective

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples


Walters Prize 2021 Winner

Auckland Art Gallery

Until September 5

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The Mata Aho Collective and Maureen Lander were announced last week as the winner of this year’s Walters Prize, by international judge, Kate Fowle, Director of New York’s MoMA PS1,

Their winning work “Atapō” consists of multiple layers of transparent black mesh and dominates the eastern end of the 19th-century Mackelvie Gallery. The word atapo loosely translates as the period before dawn and the work provides a visual equivalent of light beginning to seep through the black  night, heralding the arrival of the new day.

Along with Maureen Lander (Te Hikutu, Te Roroa, Ngāpuhi, Pākehā), the collective consists of Erena Baker, (Te Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai, Ngāti Toa Rangatira), Sarah Hudson, (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pūkeko, Ngāi Tūhoe), Bridget Reweti, (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi), and Dr Terri Te Tau, (Ngāti Kahungunu, Rangitāne ki Wairarapa).

They were awarded the Prize of $50,000 for their work which was originally included in  Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Maori Art at the Auckland Art Gallery which was opened earlier on this year.

In judging the award for which there were four finalists, Fowle said, ‘The installations bring nuanced perspectives on social, cultural and political urgencies of our time that each deserve our attention and engagement. As such, it does not feel appropriate to award the prize based on a personal selection of one work over another, particularly when I cannot physically be present with them.’

‘Instead, I would like to award the Prize to Mata Aho Collective and Maureen Lander as a celebration of the inspiration they bring through their sustained collective practices, as well as for the potential futures they offer in their collaborative thinking and generative processes. For me, these qualities, together with the commitment the artists have to creating proximity, signal the work that needs to be done by all of us in the coming years, regardless of the barriers we encounter.’

Fowle made her selection from exhibited works by artists Fiona Amundsen, Sonya Lacey, Mata Aho Collective and Maureen Lander, and Sriwhana Spong.

‘The eight women that were selected by the jury and the four installations that they have produced reveal incredible sophistication in how to invite us to embrace often fluctuating or contradictory perspectives on a story or a phenomenon that is otherwise somehow out of reach. As different in form and subject as each presentation is, there is a powerful, uniting force in how they each ask us to slow down, listen, be present, think again and be aware of our environment, ourselves, our contexts,’ says Fowle.

In an earlier review of the show this writer noted of, “Atapō” that the multiple layers of transparent black mesh, both obscured  revealed an ethereal light. The  solidity and depth of the work being emphasised by the diamond shapes which are cut into the material and which provides a way through the black mass.

As with many mythologies, death and the afterlife are the realms of gods who are often in conflict or have ambivalent roles.  Mata Aho have developed their work around the story of Hine-Titama, the incestuous  daughter of Tane who journeyed to the Underworld to become Hine-nui-te-po, the Goddess of Death and Darkness.

The ideas around death, transformation and new life are paralleled in various other mythologies and notion such as the Greek myth of human lives being woven by The Fates. In a sense the members of the collective have become  latter day versions of these Fates.

The large Hine-nui-te-po consists of multiple layers of fabric as through on a giant weaving loom with small inserts of colour woven into the fabric marking out the passage of time.

With the brighter Hine-Titama seen through the dark folds of Hine-nui-te-po there is a link between the two works and they become a metaphor for the transition between life and death, between myth and reality, between dream and illusion.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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