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ARTISTS as ACTIVISTS: Fighting for our environment

For immediate release
28 July 2010

Fighting for our environment

Academy Galleries, Queens Wharf, Wellington
20 August to 12 September 2010

An exhibition of paintings, drawings, photography and sculpture by some of New Zealand’s leading artists, all of whom use their art to express their passion for our environment and sometimes to protest against its desecration.

The exhibition will include works by Michael Smither, Don Binney, Nick Dryden, Grahame Sydney, Sam Mahon, Ian Hamlin, Dean Buchanan, Jane Zusters and members of the Academy. With poems by Brian Turner.

The exhibition is the first at the Academy Galleries to be curated by Ian Hamlin the Academy’s new President and a long time environmental activist.

Sam Mahon Escape
Sam Mahon “Escape” detail

When artists dig their heels in

“As far as I know, this is the first time the work of so many of New Zealand’s leading artists has been brought together around the theme of environmental activism, protest and political ideas. It is certainly the first time we have had such a thing at the Academy. It is a fascinating and fertile area because artists are alternative thinkers, they tend to question the status quo and they tend to have strong opinions. Generally speaking artists are not angry or negative people, but many of them are fired up when they see what they perceive as an injustice being done. Some of them get out there and fight for causes they believe in, using their art or their words to express what many of us want to say.

The idea for this exhibition was inspired by my own involvement with the controversial Marine Education Centre/‘Save the Point’ case, here in Wellington in 2007 when, as the Capital Times put it, David met Goliath when the Save the Point group went head to head with the corporate and local government backers of the Marine Education Centre. Our campaign to protect the wild south coast from commercial development drew a lot of passion, and huge amount of time and energy for the campaign came from the local creative community including myself and Nick Dryden. I have also been involved in a variety of actions to defend our natural environment, at least some of which I might see quite differently were I not an artist.

Of course, the idea of artist as protester is nothing new and the artist’s readiness to communicate the unspoken, to think beyond his or her own experience, to attempt to push the audience out of its comfort zone, and speak for those who do not dare, has created some of the most powerful artworks in the world. Here in New Zealand, artists are seldom far away from controversial issues and in recent times, the environment has been a particular driver for protest.

Artists’ are not always unanimous in their views, but their views always have an important contribution to make to the debate, whether or not they are expressed through their artwork. A single sentence might represent their common ground; ‘There are special wild places that we need to leave to impact on us – not the other way around’.

I was keen to bring the stories of artists’ passionate actions to a wider audience and thought it would be interesting to try to put an exhibition together on this theme. It has been fascinating to discover just how many of New Zealand’s leading artists have been involved in some kind of activism to prevent what they see as wrong decisions being made about issues such as coastal protection, mining, the greening of the McKenzie Country, wind farms, Canterbury water, river pollution and so on.

Their depth of passion and the amazing energy these artists have for the things they hold dear, can be experienced not only through viewing their works in this exhibition but also by hearing them speak about their involvement in environmental activism at a panel discussion at 10am on Saturday 21 August. We will be filming the discussion as part of a project to create a documentary on this subject.

940 words

If the sky knew half
of what we’re doing
down here

it would be stricken
and we would have

nothing but rain.

Brian Turner


Exhibition Title ARTISTS as ACTIVISTS

Curator Ian Hamlin

Exhibition Dates 20 August to 12 September 2010-07-28

Where Academy Galleries, 1 Queens Wharf, Wellington

Open 10am to 5pm daily

Story opportunities New Zealand’s leading artists.
Activism/Protest/Politics – artworks, poetry, stories, artist’s involvement with protest campaigns.
Artists aligning themselves with Forest & Bird’s “Save the McKenzie” campaign.
Exhibition curated by Island Bay artist Ian Hamlin.
Nick Dryden also a Wellington artist.
Ian Hamlin is new President of New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts
Changing role of the Academy.

Exhibition Opening Friday 20 August at 5.30pm
All welcome

Panel discussion Saturday 21 August 10am
Artists’ Panel Discussion chaired by
Art MEDIA opportunities
All welcome

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