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Art ‘enshrined’ in new exhibition at Mahara Gallery


A fascination with the rituals and sculpture of American native peoples inspired Palmerston North artist Sue Artner’s interest in creating art in the form of shrines.

Ten of her works feature in Shrines of Remembrance and Essence, a new exhibition at Kapiti Coast’s district gallery, Mahara, alongside another new show featuring 11 Kapiti ceramic and textile artists.

“The combination works really well,” says Gallery Director Janet Bayly. “With both, there is a sense of containment through which various stories are told, which is why we have called the ceramic and textile artists’ exhibition, Container.

Shrines of Essence and Remembrance uses the concept of a sacred place within which individuals or ideas are venerated to tell stories in a colourful and imaginative way.”

Sue Artner lives and works as an artist and teacher in Palmerson North. But she is originally from the small town of Corinth in the southern US state of Mississippi.

“As a child in the late 1940s and early 1950s I was fortunate to witness native Alaskan and south-west Indian rituals,” she says.

“After he returned from the war, my father wanted to continue to pursue meteorology and we ended up in Anchorage, Alaska.

“We had relatives in the Arizona-New Mexico area and that was how I saw the native American rituals in the early 1950s.

“I was also riveted by the sculptural objects of indigenous peoples I saw in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.

“My aunt lived in Washington and was manager for a prestigious apartment block. As a child from Mississippi, I hadn’t experienced anything like the Smithsonian and being taken there was an enormous treat.

“I remember the joy felt years later sketching the ancient cultures and ethnographic collections in museums such as the Metropolitan in New York and the Carlos in Atlanta.”

Sue Artner began making sculptural collections or assemblages in her first sculpture class a Texas Women’s University in the 1960s.

She came to New Zealand with her husband who had accepted a job as a maths and physics teacher at Palmerston North Boys High School.

He had previously worked on the US rocket programmes of the late 1960s and ‘70s until work began to dry up. Sue landed a job teaching at next door, Queen Elizabeth College.

She says that historically shrines have been physical reminders related to religious thought.

The work included in the Mahara Gallery exhibition draws on images of ancient goddesses, 21st century earth mothers, Greek mythology, nautical communications and even contemporary musicians.

“I have used the notion of box-like contained formats to encapsulate thoughts about our past, especially concerns to do with the spirit,” she says.

Over her years in New Zealand, Sue Artner has participated in a number of exhibitions but the majority involved the contribution of only a small number of her works.

“I have very seldom had this opportunity to show a cohesive range of works so I am very grateful to Mahara Gallery for giving me this showing.”

Shrines of Essence and Remembrance and Containers opened on 23 February and will be at the Gallery until 21 April.

Sue Artner will talk about her work in the Gallery on 16 March between 2.30 and 3.30 pm.

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