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Aniwaniwa returns to its ahi kaa

Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Aniwaniwa returns to its ahi kaa

The full installation of Aniwaniwa, an exhibition featured in last year’s Venice Biennale, returned "home" to its ahi kaa, the Waikato, on Saturday.

Aniwaniwa was conceptualised by aartists Brett Graham (Ngäti Koroki Kahukura) and Rachael Rakena (Ngäi Tahu, Ngä Puhi), who say the exhibition was created with a theme of submersion as a metaphor for cultural loss. It will run for six weeks and next year will be part of a festival in Tasmania.

Ms Rakena teaches video art at the University’s Te Pütahi a Toi (School of Mäori Studies) Mäori Visual Arts programme in Palmerston North, where Mr Graham was a guest lecturer in 2006 while they developed the project.

Mr Graham says the exhibition was based on the name of the rapids formed at the narrowest part of the Waikato River. The rapids disappeared when the river was dammed in 1906 to create the Horahora hydroelectric power station, which was superceded in 1947 when Lake Karapiro was created.

He says the valley and the village were lost underwater and so were historical sites significant to Ngäti Koroki Kahukura.

About 1000 people attended the launch at the museum. Museum art curator Leafa Wilson says it has been well received with many return visitors already.

“The experience they describe is that it is very emotive." Ms Wilson says. "It begins with a moving soundscape of music by Whirimako Black and then deepens when they find out about the kaupapa [meaning] behind the imagery. It has had a very powerful impact on people's emotions.”

Ms Wilson, who is of Samoan descent, says the wairua or spiritual side of the work is a sad story but ends with triumph. "The triumphal part of the narrative is about the ahi kaa [home fires] still being alive for the people and that the connection with the land is something that can't be extinguished.

“The entire work makes reference to the loss of Horahora, Mr Graham's papakainga, and to the development of Lake Karapiro as a hydro lake," she says. "Horahora is now drowned at the bottom of Lake Karapiro. The work is a brilliant collaboration between the work of Mr Graham, whose whakapapa lies with Horahora village, and the wonderful underwater film works of Rachael Rakena.

“Aniwaniwa is a masterpiece because it is multidisciplinary, and crosses many boundaries. It has soundscapes, performance, underwater themes, sculpture and moving images. Despite having to work within a western construct, it remains as a work that comes from a Mäori conceptual space. This is a seminal work in New Zealand contemporary art history.”

Mr Graham says the local people got it straight away. “It was more meaningful [in Waikato] in a way than Venice or elsewhere because people from home, that the kaupapa was about, could actually see it and relate to it."

Tao Tauroa (Ngäti Koroki Kahukura), the chairman of the Pohara Marae Committee and Pohara Farm at the top end of Lake Karapiro, says the exhibition was moving.

“It is a sad story, well told in a very contemporary way," Mr Tauroa says. "It happened and is still affecting our people; it makes me feel sad for our people. We are going through our Waitangi Tribunal hearings and still striving for mana whenua. When the flooding happened this was taken away from us and we are still fighting to get it back. I saw it in Wellington for the first time [but] when it came home it felt more intimate, like it was still happening."

One part of the exhibition that stands out for Mr Tauroa relates to a scene about ancestral bones. “Horahora which is now Lake Karapiro was the centre of the Ngäti Koroki tribal domain. Part of the exhibition shows the river being flooded, and the bones of the ancestors coming out of the burial caves and whänau being kept busy collecting them up.

“The depiction of our tupuna underwater still trying to light their fires to keep the ahi kaa and trying to dig their gardens is quite moving. So sad for our people, the exhibition comes close to showing how they would have felt.”

Caption: Artists Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena at the entrance to the Aniwaniwa exhibition that opened last weekend at the Waikato Museum.


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