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NZ exhibition opens at Venice Biennale on 8 June

NZ exhibition opens at Venice Biennale on Friday 8 June

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Media Release 6 June 2007

NZ exhibition opens at Venice Biennale on Friday 8 June

New Zealand may not have a national pavilion at the world’s leading art event the Venice Biennale, which opens this week, but an exhibition of New Zealand art opens in the collateral events section of the Biennale tomorrow.

Artists Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena along with curator Alice Hutchison and two Italian curators and a small support team, have installed the sculptural and video installation, Aniwaniwa in a building they say could have been purpose designed for the exhibition.

The beautiful Renaissance salt-store building, Magazzini del Sale, on the edge of the Zattere canal, is a of a perfect scale to hold the five carved vessels ‘wakahuia’, each 2.5 metres wide. Containing large screens with projected images, the wakahuia are suspended from the hand-hewn beams of the 12 metre high ceilings and fill the space. Visitors to the exhibition will be immersed in an audio-visual installation, viewing the work from mattresses laid out on the floor like a marae.

The video, which tells the story of of Horahora, a village on the Waikato River submerged under water when the Karapiro Dam was formed in 1947, is accompanied by a soundtrack featuring two of Maoridom’s most established and celebrated singers, Whirimako Black and Deborah Wai Kapohe, alongside renowned electronic musician, Paddy Free.

The artists and the curators are excited about the scale, theme and nature of Aniwaniwa with the Italian curators confident that the work will touch and engage both Italians and the international audience. While it is a specific local story, it has broad global, cultural and environmental references. Exploring the idea of submersion as a metaphor for cultural loss, it examines themes highly pertinent to both the slowly sinking Italian city of Venice and atolls in the Pacific endangered by global warming and environmental change.

The wakahuia are covered in a coral pattern referencing both the reef islands of the Pacific and the legend of Tangaroa, as the originator of carving. According to legend the hero Ruatepupuke had to travel underwater to retrieve the art of whakairo from Tangaroa’s house.

The Venice Biennale is the world’s oldest and most prestigious art exhibition: founded in 1895, it attracts the international art press, collectors, critics, artists, and curators in a way no other similar arts event does. Aniwaniwa was selected by the Biennale’s 2007 International Director-Curator, Robert Storr, to be included as a Collateral Event from hundreds of proposals from around the world. The invitation to participate was only made in mid-January, allowing just four months to organise the undertaking - a unique collaborative project between New Zealand and Italian non-profit/ museum curators. Aniwaniwa is one of a number of collateral events – others represent countries such as Wales, Scotland and Hong Kong and some are museum projects by such institutions as the Smithsonian.

The acceptance of Aniwaniwa into the programme is a huge honour and opportunity both for the artists and New Zealand and is the first time New Zealand artists have been accepted in the Collateral Events. The involvement of two respected Italian co-curators, and in particular Venice based curator Camilla Seibezzi, has provided direct connections to leverage local contacts to generate maximum interest and attendance.

Contemporary Maori artists Graham and Rakena are well positioned to represent New Zealand at Venice. Both have solid international exhibition track records and they represented New Zealand in the Sydney Biennale in 2006, with another work UFOB – which was highly acclaimed and popular when shown at the recent survey exhibition of contemporary art at City Gallery Wellington.

The launch of the exhibition tomorrow will mark the culmination of a year’s work and six months tough fund-raising. In addition to the grant of $100,000 given by Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, the National Institute of Research Excellence for Maori Development and Advancement, and Massey University, for the development of the work, nearly $200,000 has been raised to meet costs in getting the work to Venice and staging the exhibition. Creative New Zealand recently made a grant of $24,000 towards the project and other significant support has come from Te Puni Kokiri, and Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts and his wife Rowena, have contributed financially as well as providing creative marketing support to the project team. Sponsorship has been raised in Italy for the wine and from leading fashion house Byblos. Some $40,000 has also been raised through public donations and the sale of digital prints from the video. Many essential design, legal and media services have been provided.

A publication about the project featuring essays by academic media expert Sean Cubitt and Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, Director of Art and Visual Culture at Te Papa, will also be launched at the opening. Mane-Wheoki describes Aniwaniwa as “a visual and aural lament, a multi-layered entity that speaks of forced migration, of cultural loss, of memory and nostalgia”. In his essay he also draws attention to the links between Maori and the people of Venice which date back to the Second World War.

New Zealanders who would like to support the project are invited to purchase a still print from the video available at a special price or to make a donation to MANGOROA-ANIWANIWA Project Trustees Limited - either by direct debit to account 12-3209-0210731-00 or send a cheque to PO Box 6357, Wellington. The video stills can be viewed online at

Aniwaniwa is officially listed on the Biennale website:

Another site documents the project and has images of the work arriving in Venice and the beautiful location:


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