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Work Adds To Museum Street Art

Artist Benjamin Work is adding to Canterbury Museum’s street art collection, creating a huge 330 sq metre floor to wall, mural over a week from today, in the Level 1 Special Exhibition Hall.

Museum visitors can watch as he paints the new work across the floor and up the two end walls of the gallery. The artwork is influenced by the iconography finely carved onto Tongan ‘Akau tau (war clubs) in the Museum’s collection.

The massively popular Rise exhibition, staged at the Museum in 2013–2014, celebrated the emergence of urban art as a truly global phenomenon. In the years since, street art has been legitimised and embraced by Ōtautahi as an uplifting point of difference in the city’s rebuild.

The Museum has kept much of the original Rise artwork, some of it hidden behind curtains in the large Level 1 gallery. Works on the gallery wall by Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson & Ikarus, Thom Buchanan, Eno, Askew One, Jacob Yikes, Drapl and BMD will once again be revealed. Other works have remained on public display: ROA’s penguin in the Bird Hall and moa on the exterior of the Museum’s northern facade, Berst’s mural on the gallery stairs and Beastman’s mural in the Visitor Lounge and Cafe.

Museum Director Anthony Wright says he’s delighted that art on the gallery walls produced for the Rise exhibition will be once again on public view. “I’m really looking forward to the black curtains coming off the walls and feeling the energy and excitement of new street art being created in the Museum. It’s fantastic that Benjamin is taking his inspiration from patterning carved on Tongan ‘Akau tau in the collection.”

Benjamin Work hopes the floor to wall mural will act as a conduit between the Museum’s Tongan collection and Ōtautahi’s Pasifika communities, reviving an aspect of kupesi (motif) that has disappeared from today’s Tongan visual language.

“‘Akau tau were sought after by collectors in the colonial era, particularly for the beautifully carved icons on their surfaces. Today, Tonga’s traditional carving practices, bridging the domestic and the ceremonial, have been replaced by tourist-dependent handicraft,” he says.

Work is a member of TMD Crew, Aotearoa’s foremost collective of internationally-acclaimed street artists. His work extends from public murals and studio based practice to exploring his own cultural identity and the Polynesian diaspora, the migration and movement of Polynesian peoples to and around Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean). His research has taken him around the world to some of the most prestigious international museums that hold Tongan material culture.

Visitors to Canterbury Museum can watch Benjamin Work create his kupesi over the week beginning Monday 12 April. The artworks in the gallery will be on display until 6 June 2021.

Benjamin Work

Benjamin Work is an Auckland-born artist of Tongan and Scottish heritage. He has a solid grounding in aerosol painting with his initial creative output centred around sub/pop-cultural influences that emerged from North America in the 1970s–1980s.

Benjamin’s bold visual language references design elements and symbols particular to Tongan weaponry and culture. His practice extends across a diverse range of projects which include gallery exhibitions, large scale murals, print based media and photography. His work reflects the here and now, engaging with the current cultural, political and social context of Aotearoa.

He has exhibited in a number of group and solo exhibitions including The Most Dedicated: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story currently on at The Dowse Art Museum in the Hutt Valley.

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