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Opening Exhibition of Te Huringa /Turning Points

Opening Exhibition of Te Huringa /Turning Points,


Pakeha Colonisation and Maori Empowerment


Main Exhibitions Gallery; Puke Ariki; New Plymouth


Tariana Turia; Co-leader of the Maori Party


Saturday 16 September 2006

I had a mind-altering experience this week in Opunake.

Two young speakers at the Nga Manu Korero Speech Competitions, spoke to a statement attributed to President Nelson Mandela’s inaugural address in 1994. That statement was

"...Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

It is a statement I have, myself, used in speaking on the themes of empowerment, of liberation, of enlightenment. Themes that are pivotal to the exhibition we open here tonight, Te Huringa, Turning Points.

The turning point in my consciousness this week, was that these young scholars revealed the statement actually comes from a book, ‘A return to love’ by Marianne Williamson, a lecturer, a writer, a spiritual leader.

They had sought the help of various search engines, and found that not only was it not written by Mandela, but it was not quoted in either the speech given on 9th May 1994 at Capetown, or the following day at Pretoria. Indeed, the ANC confirmed that the statement had neither appeared or been used in any of the other speeches and writings by the President.

Hearing those young leaders reveal the truth, here in Taranaki, was what you might call an epiphany moment - that sudden manifestation of the simple, striking truth.

It’s the moment when children discover another truth about Santa Claus, Easter Bunny or the tooth fairy. Or the shattering realisation that the most powerful nation in the world is also the most vulnerable - a truth brought home to us five years ago this week, on the morning of September 11.

That point of no going back. The world will never look the same.

In my case, it was an epiphany moment which revealed to me the tremendous potential our young leaders offer, through the use of their inquiring minds. It gave me great hope for our future, that our tamariki and mokopuna will be able to challenge and question the realities of our world, in order to seek out a new truth.

That process of revolution and invigoration of thought, is what I believe lies beyond us all in Te Huringa/Turning Points.

I am honoured to be here tonight, feeling a strength of connection to the exhibition by virtue of it being toured by the Sargeant Gallery at home in Whanganui.

But my connection is perhaps most profoundly felt in admiring the intentions of the artists, the curators, Peter Shaw and Dr Jo Diamond; the sponsors - Te Puni Kokiri and Fletcher Trust - and the host - this magnificent centre of excellence - Puke Ariki.

I want to commend you all for the courage you have taken, to provoke us, to stimulate the thought, to inspire the memory, to ask us to engage.

Your exhibition takes us beyond the canvas, to examine the knowledge of our tupuna; the appreciation of our environment; the retention of universal values; the exploration of innovation and initiative.

The turning point is in realising the dynamic relationship between our tupuna Maori, and Pakeha ancestors - and how that relationship has evolved and endured since the time of settlement.

In this exhibition, we can see the impact of environment upon Francis Dillon Bell - an artist of great significance to Taranaki through his role on the West Coast Commission; and his so-called ‘acquisition’ of some 1500 acres from the Puketapu iwi, now known as the Bell Block.

Mr Bell has an important place in the history of colonisation. Bell, who eventually became Minister of Native Affairs, was complicit in defending the 'purchase’ of the Waitara block. He along with William Fox and C.W. Richmond legitimated the illegal confiscation of land with Richmond determined to "stamp out the beastly communism of the Maori".

Bell, cousin of Edward Gibbons Wakefield, played a key role in sorting out land grants to settlers. His sympathy with the settlers was perhaps most evident in his ardent support of the Waitara ‘purchase’. It is somewhat fascinating that despite his key role in the lead up to the Taranaki war and confiscations, twenty years after the wars, he recommended that substantial areas of land be returned to Maori. Such is the complexity of the colonising project.

The return of Francis Dillon Bell's 1845 panorama of New Plymouth to Puke Ariki just last year, through the gift of the Taranaki Savings Bank Community Trust, is recognised then as having a distinctive place in the history in this region.

Bell’s paintings are useful also, in showing the nation, how the settlers who arrived on these shores viewed their new homeland. Such a viewpoint is also evident in the work of Nicholas Chevalier, who, influenced by the English watercolour tradition, left a legacy of early New Zealand landscapes during the 1860s.

This love of landscape resonates with tangata whenua and our own intimate relationship with land, our whakapapa connections emerging from the union of Ranginui and Papatuanuku.

The work of one of your own - Darcy Nicholas - of Te Atiawa, Ngati Ruanui, and Tauranga Moana - also illustrates the vibrant connection we have to our whenua. He has said of his work:

"My paintings are about identity, the ancestral lines that connect me with the universe. … We are what our ancestors have made us. The earth and the stars are our ancient ancestors and we are part of them. The earth is my primeval mother and I am her son."

The paintings of Robyn Kahukiwa build on this intimate and spiritual connection to whenua, by exposing the trauma experienced between the loss of land and loss of Maori identity.

As a woman of Ngati Porou, her series Hikurangi, reflect her love of the land, the people - the strength, the resilience and the survival of tangata whenua - throughout the onslaught of colonisation, dispossession and land alienation.

It is of course, nothing that anyone here in Taranaki, needs to be told. Even in my time here this week, I couldn’t help but marvel at the attitude of our people, who despite the invasion of Parihaka, the arrest and imprisonment of Te Whiti, Tohu and hundreds of their followers; the trauma of captivity and exile, still stand tall today, defiant in their determination to uphold the peace.

And as I contemplated what it took to remove survey pegs, to plant, to erect fences, to undertake long silent marches around their tribal boundaries, I cannot help but be impressed at the fierce activism which seeks to preserve our rangatiratanga, our own aspirations and authority; against the attacks from the coloniser.

In a paper by Dr Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, he refers to a question asked in 1861 by Mary Hobhouse, wife of the first Anglican bishop of Nelson. She asked, “how can the natives expect justice when the people who covet every inch of their land, are the makers of the law”?. It is a question which this exhibition builds on.

The impact that remains from the trauma of carving the land up into blocks and sections for European settlement, is the subject for much interpretation; a subject which forces our cultures to interact.

Sometimes this interaction is best expressed in the art of activism. The protest art we associate with Emare Karaka, her vivid and erupting socio-political art; or the statement about alienation and cultural dislocation manifest in the installations of Peter Robinson.

The work of both Karaka and Robinson explodes at many levels - exploring a sense of exile from one’s culture; statements of protest such as in Karaka’s Rangitoto-Takaparawha, which refers to the occupation of Bastion Point and the struggle for land rights; or the shock value of work such as Robinson’s One Love. This is an installation of brutal signs of racism - panels inscribed with the words Die aborigine, die Maori, die Pakeha, whites have rights too, and fish + chips.

The use of disruptive images to provoke our thinking is strongly linked to the work of Ngapuhi artist, Shane Cotton. Cotton’s work is influenced by traditional images placed alongside of text. His paintings pick up a tradition he describes dating back to the paintings and carvings of 19th century meeting houses such as Te Hau ki Turanga and Rongopai which he suggests were directly influenced by Christian text.

The power of the word to influence is central in understanding the art of Colin McCahon; while Gordon Walters moves more to the symbolic forms of Maori rock art. His legendary ‘koru’ series of paintings; and the use of Maori motifs has generated huge debate about the use of our symbols to represent identity.

Similarly controversial in the contribution he has made towards issues of representation are the portraits of Charles Goldie, which Sir Apirana Ngata described as ‘shadow paintings’. Goldie himself drew on a tradition of Pakeha art in Aotearoa; perhaps first established in the work of Augustus Earle who was one of the earliest artists to spend time amongst Maori, that "splendid race of men"; living in the Hokianga and Bay of Islands during 1827-28.

The frustration that tangata whenua have had about the interpretation of Maori cultural material and taonga became the subject of Robyn Kahukiwa’s series of paintings, Unidentified Maori women, archives of images from the Alexander Turnbull Library which Kahukiwa reclaims in her work.

Finally,Sandy Adsett articulates the art of defiance in his work, explained as ‘the people’s art’. He describes his work in this way:

“It must identify Maori to Maori; to remain relevant to statements about our tribal beliefs, values and mana in today’s and tomorrow’s world”.

And this is really the point, the turning point, of Te Huringa.

I have attempted tonight, to traverse the rich wealth of image and message associated with the journey Aotearoa has undertaken, from the time of early European settlement.

Some of these images are disturbing. Some of the stories beyond the picture reveal histories of pain, of loss, of confiscation, of war. Others lead us in a journey of hope. We must take power. Power will never be given, and we must always believe in the ability to paint a future, or to carve the reality for our dreams to take shape.

Tino rangatiratanga is hard work. Rangatiratanga involves responsibility; it involves action and reflection. It involves us all.

Just as the two young students deconstructed the statement attributed to Mandela, I hope that the incredible exhibition we are privileged to view tonight, will cause us all to think again, to revisit assumptions, to explore the juxtaposition of image and culture.

I congratulate Puke Ariki for your reputation in encouraging the depth of thinking that we require to move forward, together, as a nation.

Aotearoa desperately needs the stimulus of exhibitions such as this, for us all to re-examine and protect, as Adsett suggests, our tribal beliefs, values and mana in today’s and tomorrow’s world.

Ends


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