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Maori contemporary art in
Te Tai Tokerau


Pataka Museum together with its exhibition partners Toi Maori Aotearoa in Porirua have been one of the most innovative galleries in New Zealand, delving deeply into unique stories of Maori and Pacific art and connected narratives in Aotearoa.

Like WAM this high profile institution is relatively new to the public art museum sector; part of a cultural matrix in Porirua combining the Museum and Gallery with Library and information services much as we do here in our relocated site at the Town Basin. Museums of the 21st century are no longer stand-alone sites, but part of a broader cultural cluster.

Currently curated by Pataka is Uku Rere Nga Kaihanga Uku: the Contemporary Maori Clay Movement showcasing the extraordinary story of contemporary Maori ceramics from the movements founding in 1987 to today. This exhibition opens here at the art museum from November 11 to February 16 and coincides with the Clay Co-operative’s annual meeting in Whangarei.

Two of the leading personalities in this relatively new movement are from Northland; Colleen Waata Urlich and Manos Nathan. Both have had a long and ongoing relationship with the Whangarei Art Museum and there are several works on loan in this exhibition from the art museum collection.

This exhibition travels to the art museum where it will feature with two other exhibitions of contemporary Maori artists. In 1951 Selwyn Ngareatua Wilson (1927-2002) was the first Maori artist to graduate with a Diploma of Fine Arts, and the 12 works he exhibited for his graduation at the National Gallery in Wellington will all be shown together again for the first time. The art museum acquired this entire collection of portraits 2 years ago and raised significant external funding to acquire, conserve and frame them all to their new transcendent beauty. Wilson was from Kawakawa and won a Sir Apirana Ngata Scholarship to further his study in London based on these graduate works. The other concurrent exhibition is a suite of the Hokianga Series of photographs by Ross T. Smith recently gifted to the art museum by the artist.

Manos Nathan and his brother Alex are also inspiring figures in Northland, active not only as artists in their respective fields, but as arts activists and mentors of many aspiring artists.

Like Selwyn Wilson too, Nathan graduated primarily as a painter and then travelled to Europe, but personal circumstances and a move back to the papakaianga up North changed the directions of his art and worldview, as they had done for Selwyn Wilson in the late 1950’s. Nathan returned to the Waipoua to help with the carving of Matatina Marae and found his spiritual and creative lineage lay there. The academic Maori Marsden became his mentor. It was another Northland arts identity, Douggie Chowns who later introduced him to ceramics. In 1987 he was a founding member of Nga Kaihanga Uku with Baye Riddell, Colleen Waata-Urlich, Wi Taepa and Paerau Corneal.

The relationship with the Whangarei Art Museum and Manos Nathan extends back to 1998 when I invited the artist to contribute a series of works in the hugely successful Nga Taonga O Te Tai Tokerau; which included the ‘return home’ of many Gottfried Lindauer portraits of Nga Puhi rangatira from the Auckland Art Gallery. In 2002 I commissioned Nathan to create the 2 metre public sculpture Kaitiaki from Te Waka Toi Arts Council grants funds. This work remains the sentinel guardian figure of the art museum. Manos and I were also members of the art committee together, which commissioned the award winning pou ihi at the entrance of the Whangarei Municipal Library. Selwyn Ngareatua Wilson and Manos Nathan are exemplary figures in the cultural register of Northland. Wilson was the first Maori student to enroll at arts school in 1945 - from small town Kawaka, to Elam School of Arts in Auckland and onto London. Uku Rere brings together for the first time two and a half decades of ceramics splendor. Two very fine forthcoming exhibitions at Whangarei Art Museum Te Manawa Toi. - Scott Pothan

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