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Still, Like Air, I'll Rise

Media release – 17 July, 2017

Still, Like Air, I'll Rise

Hannah Brontë, Skawennati, Esther Ige, Lisa Reihana, Salote Tawale, Leafa Wilson & Olga Krause

An exhibition developed by ST PAUL St Gallery, AUT.

Curated by Abby Cunnane and Charlotte Huddleston.

Exhibition Preview: Friday 21 July at 5.30pm

Exhibition Runs: Saturday 22 July – Sunday 27 August 2017

Saturday 29 July, 2pm: Curator Talk with Abby Cunnane, Acting Director ST PAUL St Gallery

The Physics Room is proud to present Still, Like Air, I’ll Rise, an exhibition developed by ST PAUL St Gallery, AUT and curated by Abby Cunnane and Charlotte Huddleston. It was first shown at ST PAUL St Gallery, AUT 24 February 2017 - 31 March 2017.

There is an element of triumph in every gesture of defiance. “But still, like air, I’ll rise” wrote Maya Angelou in 1978. Writing of resilience under oppression, she is speaking for her race and gender in an address of historical and structural oppression of Black Americans. Angelou’s is a “confident voice of strength that recognizes its own power and will no longer be pushed into passivity."[1] It’s an attitude of powerful dissent that the works in this exhibition have in common. The title is twice borrowed; from Angelou and from Hannah Brontë, whose work Still I Rise (2016) imagines an Indigenous women of colour parliament in Australia, through a rap music video. The work addresses her question “how do we keep fighting if we can’t envision victory?”[2] Brontë’s and the other works in this exhibition have no patience for generalising rhetoric around ‘making change’. Rather each attends to its specific social-political context, and the gestures are direct.

Revisiting Lisa Reihana’s Wog Features (1990) 27 years after it was made, and taking the work as a starting point, this exhibition acknowledges the tone of defiance surfacing again in a series of contemporary works, and sets out to amplify this by bringing these intergenerational voices together. Reihana’s Wog Features was made at a time when identity politics were in the foreground of contemporary art. This was also a time when biculturalism was prominent in political discussions around nationhood in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Representation is reclaimed in these works. Salote Tawale’s videos Sometimes you make me nervous (2012) and Pocari Sweat (2014) draw on essentialising stereotypes, reproducing them as self-portraits in direct confrontation with colonialist representations of ‘the other’.

Working with specific moments in history, including popular culture sources, Esther Ige’s work in photography, installation and video engages with the racism that she identifies is still in the ‘blood stream’ of the system now. She is concerned specifically with the prevalence of racism and racist stereotypes in the media and popular culture and “through symbolic expression, gesture and stance: from declaration, to resistance, to defiance, to protest” her work brings this negative stereotyping up for discussion.[3]

Leafa Wilson & Olga Krause present Unprotected #2: This ain’t no disco, the second in a series of built and inhabited structures that establish protection from the conventions Western art, holding ground in the gallery. Wilson & Krause’s work often takes place in institutional spaces, and is directly responsive to the structural inequities that often exist there, and to the need as artists and curators to find habitable positions ‘within’ such institutional systems. This is an Ōtautahi iteration of a work which was first performed at ST PAUL St Gallery, AUT, Auckland. This ain’t no disco is an endurance work. The artist will be performing throughout the duration of the opening event. You are invited to join in the performance throughout the course of the evening. Trigger Warning: blood may be drawn in a controlled fashion.

Skawennati’s TimeTraveller™ (2008-2013) appropriates the forms of virtual reality game Second Life and those of the contemporary museum industry. Set in 2121, TimeTraveller™ offers viewers the opportunity to ‘embody’ the narratives of First Nations history, at the same time as participating in a form of world making that looks to the future.

The works in Still, Like Air, I’ll Rise do not revise history; they just remember it differently and at times set propositions for alternative futures into action.

[1] Carol Neubauer ‘Maya Angelou: Self and a Song of Freedom in the Southern Tradition’ Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, Tonette Bond Inge, (ed). (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press,1990), pp. 1–12.

[2] Email correspondence with the artist September 2016.

[3] Email correspondence with the artist October 2016.


Upcoming exhibition:

Still, Like Air, I'll Rise

Hannah Brontë, Skawennati, Esther Ige, Lisa Reihana, Salote Tawale, Leafa Wilson & Olga Krause

An exhibition developed by ST PAUL St Gallery, AUT. Curated by Abby Cunnane and Charlotte Huddleston.

Exhibition Preview: Friday 21 July at 5.30pm
Exhibition Runs: Saturday 22 July – Sunday 27 August 2017

The Physics Room is generously supported by Creative NZ, Christchurch City Council, Three Boys Brewery, Signtech, Resene Paints, and The Crater Rim


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