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New Zealand’s Cultural Treasures Heading to China

5 September 2012


New Zealand’s Cultural Treasures Heading to China

As part of the celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and New Zealand, two Te Papa exhibitions will be heading to the National Museum of China in November 2012.

“The exhibitions Brian Brake: Lens on China and Kura Pounamu: Treasured stone of Aotearoa New Zealand will deepen the cultural connections and understanding between our two nations,” says Michael Houlihan, Te Papa Chief Executive.

“It is an exciting opportunity to share the stories behind some of New Zealand’s most significant cultural treasures.”

Kura Pounamu: Treasured stone of Aotearoa New Zealand explores the powerful role pounamu plays in affirming and building a variety of relationships – from the personal to the political – in showcasing traditional and contemporary pounamu taonga, including hei tiki (pendants in human form), adornments such as ear pendants and necklaces, tools for carving (adzes and chisels) and mere pounamu (nephrite weapons). The exhibition also explores the properties of this stone which is unique New Zealand.

Brian Brake: Lens on China and New Zealand contrasts the photographs that Brake took in 1960 for New Zealand: Gift of the Sea with his images of China, taken shortly before. These were periods of change for both countries. During his visits to China in 1957, and again in 1959, he captured the spectacles of mass parades in Beijing. In 1960, he toured New Zealand, the land of his birth, where the magnificent mountain scenery drew his eye. Placing the photographs together shows the huge differences between the two countries. But what the photographs also have in common is that they capture the same moment in time – a moment that is long past and entirely unknown by young people today.

Kura Pounamu: Treasured stone of Aotearoa New Zealand and Brian Brake: Lens on China and New Zealand will open at the National Museum of China early November 2012.

The exhibitions were developed jointly by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and the National Museum of China with the support of the New Zealand Government through Manatū Taonga - Ministry for Culture and Heritage's Cultural Diplomacy International Programme.

Te Papa gratefully acknowledges the gift of the Brian Brake Collection by Wai-man Lau.

Notes to the Editor:

Background on Brian Brake
Brian Brake (1927-1988) was New Zealand’s best known photographer. He was a member of the prestigious Paris photo agency Magnum and made his reputation as an international photojournalist and illustrative photographer in the 1950s and 1960s. His work was widely published in the picture magazines of the day, such as Life, Illustrated and Paris Match.

A highlight of Brake’s work in the 1950s is his photography in China in 1957 and 1959. He was one of the few Western photographers to visit the country at this time and his photographs were widely seen internationally. At about the same time Brake also established a reputation within New Zealand for his best selling book, New Zealand, gift of the sea, published in 1963.

In China, Brake photographed the spectacular parades in Beijing of May Day and the tenth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, as well as the political activities surrounding these. But he also photographed ordinary people in their daily lives both in Beijing and in other parts of the country. For Brake, New Zealand’s spectacle lay in its landscapes, and he produced stunning images of mountains and natural scenery. But, as in China, he also photographed ordinary people, attempting to produce a portrait on the country and its inhabitants. In both countries he used a technique that was not commonly practised there – that of the international magazine photojournalist, taking unposed photographs of people who mostly appear unaware of his presence. By doing so he created an insight into how life was lived at an everyday level.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa gratefully acknowledges Wai-man Lau’s gift of the Brian Brake Collection in 2001. All photographs are modern type-C prints made digitally from the original negatives or transparencies.

Background on Kura Pounamu

Kura Pounamu: Treasured Stone of Aotearoa New Zealand is a rich and exciting exhibition showcasing examples of this exceptionally beautiful stone, its origins, and stories of the special relationship people have with pounamu.

Featuring more than 200 taonga from Te Papa’s Pounamu collections, including 96 hei tiki, 20 mere, and 4 touchstones, the exhibition acknowledges the iconic status of pounamu to New Zealand as a nation.

Pounamu (New Zealand greenstone) is a treasured stone for Maori and all New Zealanders. It is valued for its beauty, strength, and durability, and there are many stories of its origins.

There are two systems for classifying pounamu. Geologically, the name pounamu refers to three different types of stone: nephrite, bowenite, and serpentinite. Maori classify pounamu by appearance.

Pounamu is found only in the South Island of New Zealand, Te Wai Pounamu (the greenstone waters). It begins its journey in the rock where it is formed, then is slowly ‘freed’ by erosion. Most pounamu settles in riverbeds, and some is carried out to sea and scattered along the coast.

Kura Pounamu: Treasured stone of Aotearoa New Zealand has been developed by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and has previously been on display in the national museum in Wellington from 17 October 2009 – 10 July 2011.

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