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Pita Sharples: Te Huringa /Turning Points

EXHIBITION OPENING: Te Huringa /Turning Points

Hawkes Bay Exhibition Centre, Hastings

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party

Friday 8 December 2006; 6pm

Hirini Moko Mead, an anthropologist, a leader of Ngati Awa and a distinguished writer and commentator, has classified the period between 1800 and the present as Te Huringa– a turning point in the life of tangata whenua.

A period when one moves between te ao kohatu and te ao hurihuri. The period of our nation’s history when contact with Pakeha brought new technology, as well as land disputes and war.

Mead comments that "when the smoke cleared away and the pain of contact with a dominant Pakeha group had to be accepted, the people turned again to reconstruction and to art."

It was a period of dynamic change, of fluidity, constantly shifting, negotiating, adjusting for size.

It is a concept which I am excited about sharing with you tonight, in this exhibition of the paintings from the collections of the Fletcher Trust and Sarjeant Gallery, Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui.

I must admit that when I received the invitation it wasn’t so much a shifting going on, as a 360° revolution – my head swivelling in an rapid double-take.

It was the subtitle of this exhibition – Te Huringa/Turning Points.

I contemplated its meaning. “Pakeha colonisation and Maori empowerment”.

Pakeha being colonised …..what would that look like?

The process of Pakeha being controlled by another people; their landscapes, resources, communities, histories, knowledge being re-defined, possessed by another world view has given me much to think on.

For an example of this, let us turn the concept around. One of the works in the exhibition is of Ngatata, a watercolour by George French Angas.

Angas came to Aotearoa in 1844 landing at Port Nicholson (Wellington). From there he travelled to Porirua, met Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata, set south to Wairau Valley and ended his trip with an eight-day voyage up to Auckland; leaving New Zealand at the end of the year.

Based with this extensive experience of the New Zealand scene, Angas published his journal “Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand”, including the work featuring Ngatata, which Angus described as "an atrocious cannibal . . . notorious for his sanguinary deeds of cruelty."

Now, instead of writing about Ngatata as a freak with six toes, Angas could have described Ngatata-i-te-rangi as the son of Te Rangwhetiki. He could have referred to him as an influential chief in Ngati te Whiti. He could have honoured him as a signatory to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. He could have located him in Kumutoto kainga, the original foreshore.

Three years ago, the Wellington City Council in consultation with tangata whenua, changed the name of the waterfront previously known as Queen’s Wharf, to the original name of Kumutoto, - acknowledging not just the mana of that whenua, but also recognising it was an area of bustling economic prosperity at the time the first settlers arrived – the centre of the lucrative flax trade.

Kumutoto did not survive under the onslaught of the colonial town, and there was soon little evidence of a thriving Maori community.

The turning point did happen though… took 159 years since the watercolour of Ngatata was completed, and the Wellington City Council returned the mana a iwi to the people – but it did happen.

That is what I find so exciting with the engagement of art and history – that this exhibition offers us all. It provides us with the stimulus to look again, to swivel around and review the image from another perspective.

Being of Ngai Te Kikiri o te Rangi and Ngāti Pahauwera of Ngāti Kahungunu; I could not miss the opportunity of course to encourage you all to look particularly at the work of Ngati Kahungunu artist, Sandy Adsett, and his work, Tane and Tama Uprooted.

Adsett describes his work in the following way:

"A Maori has an obligation to the art of his/her people. It's the people's art. It doesn't belong to you. It must identify Maori to Maori if it is going to remain relevant to statements about our tribal beliefs, values and mana in today's and tomorrow's world."

The turning point that Adsett asks us to engage with, is the relationship between these tribal beliefs, values and mana and the notion of the cultural losses that have resulted from the introduction of Christianity.

He juxtaposes the symbols of koru and other rakau whakairo including maihi and tekoteko with a single white square with a dark cruciform. He prompts us to search our soul to unravel the mystery – are Maori cultural treasures submerged under the Cross? What does it tell us of cultural alienation? Was Christianity the turning point, or the point of no return?

This exhibition is not an easy viewing.

Kai tahu artist, Peter Robinson’s work, is also likely to turn heads. His work, which intersperses percentage points with crude forms of koru and Maori symbols, is particularly interesting in the context of the hotly contested debate that Dr Brash and I had this year around the blood quantum theory.

The quantification of linking blood ratios with some definition of race, leads us into thinking about cultural identity; representation; whakapapa; and how that clashes with a simplistic notion of percentage points.

Seeing the ‘other’ through the coloniser’s eyes – classifying the indigenous species is probably most obvious in the two lithographs published by Arthus Bertrand. Like preserved butterflies, wings pinned to a board for display, our taonga feature as ‘specimens’, frozen in time to represent the house, the tomb, the false idols of the ‘savage’ culture.

Those two sterile boards could not possibly contrast more with the two shields of Waiohua, Ngati Hine artist, Emare Karaka, in her workKaitiakitanga shields 1 and 11.

The passionately political power of Karaka’s shields demonstrate the proud defiance of tangata whenua, in protecting our cultural heritage, our taonga tuku iho.

They make us feel inspired to hold strong to our beliefs, to fight for the preservation of land, to stand strong against the assault on Mother nature which we see approaching with global warming.

The shields motivate us to take courage in challenging perspectives which seek to threaten our worldviews. They remind us of the intrinsic values of our kaupapa, our tikanga, our histories, our world.

Like in the lyrics of a sixties song, to everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season and a time for every purpose.

I want to particularly acknowledge my good friend Peter Shaw, who as curator of this exhibition has taken the plunge to shock us, to wake us, to disrupt our sense of certainty, and to inspire us to think. The relationship he has forged with Ngapuhi art history expert, Dr Jo Diamond has obviously generated an energy which this exhibition benefits from.

And I want to recognise also the significant role that the Fletcher Trust has played for some thirty years now, in aiming to make a difference to New Zealand society. The courage and confidence displayed by Sir James Fletcher, Angus Fletcher, James Fletcher, Gary Key, Mark Binns and Paul Pirani in their willing and generous investment in creative vision, has helped to shape and shift many minds and communities over the years.

Society needs to be challenged – and the collection of paintings included inTe Huringa will provide just that very sense of transformation we need to turn over a new leaf.

I thank you for the honour of being able to share some ideas around turning points that may shift your gaze tonight. And I have the utmost pleasure in declaring this exhibition open.


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