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New Acquisition For Art Museum


New Acquisition For Art Museum

Hatupu and the Bird Woman c.1966

Pauline Kahurangi Yearbury

The Whangarei Art Museum is delighted to announce an important new acquisition
to the museum’s modernist maori art collection. Based around the experimental Northern Maori Project by the Department of Education in the 1950’s and focussing on maori youth, the Tovey Scheme was to foster many of the most famous contemporary maori artists of today.

The late Pauline Yearbury, who was to live most of her life in Russell, together with Katerina Mataira were the first maori women to study modern art at graduate level at Elam School of Art Auckland and became art tutors in Northland.

More significantly, in 1945 Selwyn Te Ngareatua Wilson from Kawakawa was the first maori student to enrol there. The art museum also recently acquired 14 works from his Elam graduate exhibition in 1951.
Pauline Yearbury (nee Blomfield) was a student at Elam at this time and both Wilson and Yearbury among others, were able to successfully synthesise their strict academic training in a Western fine-art tradition into their own cultural context – creating what was to become known as Maori Modernism 1950-70 in the process.

A ground-breaking exhibition of contemporary maori art, curated by another Te Tai Tokerau artist (and celebrated pupil of Selwyn Wilson) the late Buck Nin, was held at the Canterbury Museum in 1966.This was arguably the first of its type in New Zealand in a ‘mainstream’ public institution and also the first to controversially contextualise avant-garde maori art with traditional artefacts toi whakairo and taonga from the museum’s rich resources.

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The oil painting ‘Hatupu and the Bird Woman’ became a signature work from this exhibition which included artists who became nationally and internationally famous only a decade later. The novel and controversial exhibition was widely publicised and this painting came to represent the new movement (see article below). New Zealand Maori Culture and the Contemporary Scene as the exhibition was titled included other Northland artists such as Cath Brown, Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, Selwyn Muru as well as Buck Nin and Pauline Yearbury. Other artists involved were Fred Graham and Arnold Wilson, Katerina Mataira, Mere Harrison and Norman Lemon.

Buck Nin states in the catalogue of this seminal exhibition ‘if a true New Zealand school of art emerges the rich inheritance of the Maori people, here interpreted in modern forms, may well provide a major source of inspiration for the future’ - prescient words indeed.

Te Ao Hou – The New World
The Maori Magazine March-May 1967
Issue Number 58

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