Art+Body Gallery in Mt Maunganui hosts another exhibition of contemporary Maori art; this time it is local artist Tawhai Rickard whose work is on show.
Well-known because of his win in the art competition held in conjunction with the 2014 commemoration of the battles of Gate Pa-Pukehinahina and Te Ranga;Rickard’s work at Art+Body follows themes and styles evident in that winning construction and art piece.
One wall of the Art+Body is hung with works which look familiar and, “yes” Tawhai tells me “they have been shown at the Cargo Shed.” Without reference to anything I’ve previously written I note that I “like” the small, carefully crafted, little works of visual history.
On the opposite wall of the Gallery are the “new” works; works referencing more recent battles and conflicts – World Wars I and II. The warriors and images on this occasion are the The First Contingent (of Native Soldiers): Te Hoko Whitu a Tu; The Seventy twice told warriors of Tu, their Battalion motto. There is a dog on this canoe “Maori always had dogs.” Tradition continues irrespective of the times, modernisation of the mechanics of war and the appearance of the Maori Warriors in heavy New Zealand Army uniforms or the fact it was the SS Warrimoo not a canoe that took them war.
I look at that phrase again. It rings in my earlier life. “We used to sing a song a University that started ‘e te hoko whitu a tu kia kaha ra’ “ I say to Tawhai as we stand in front of the works. He explains. And, when I go on-line there are all the words of the Tuini Ngawai waiata composed to honour the 28th Maori Battalion and the VC awarded to Second Lieutenant Te Moana-nui-a-kiwa Ngarimu. Kia Mau, the Ministry of Education site has information from Tairua Takura and John Coleman: “E Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu urges the Maori Battalion to greater heights of bravery…but at the same time urges them to stop dying in such numbers.” The site says the waiata are still taught to ensure they are never lost.
And Te Ope Tuatahi? The first two verses originally composed by A.T. Ngata MP to encourage “East Coast Natives to recruit”. This information was on the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand Electronic Text Collection: Te Puhikotuhi o Aotearoa. Both Te Ope Tuatahi and E Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu were song at the hui on 6th October 1943 honouring Ngarimu VC.
This is an exhibition predicated by the Gallipoli commemorations and this is exemplified in the promotional photographic image created by Tawhai and photographer wife Tania Lewis-Rickard. A bloodied and bandaged hand reaches out towards a fallen flower.
There are the decorated constructions with their intricate little leaping figures. There are totemic images of turned wood Victoriana. And there in Mediterranean-Turkish colours of turquoise and copper is the “Karipori” – Gallipoli totem. Little nail heads stud these works. Hannah Wilson from the Tauranga Art Gallery points them out to me and we wonder whether they are copper or coloured copper – these little coffin nails.
I’ll be going back to have another look or “viewing” of Tawhai’s works. I like to do this as often at an exhibition opening I find I’m distracted by the socialising or the works are crowded out. This evening was no
exception. It was particularly pleasing to see Creative Tauranga’s Millie Newitt and Maria Johnson at the exhibition opening with the Tauranga Art Gallery’s Hannah Wilson. Part way through the evening a small group of people gathered on the pavement outside; Tawhai’s relatives who had travelled from Ruatoria to support his exhibition opening.
This exhibition draws on so many threads of New Zealand’s Maori and Pakeha shared history. As Tawhai said it shows the coming together and the moving forward together. It’s relevant not just because of its associations with historic conflict commemorations but because of the style and technique of artistic presentation that Rickard uses.
What would expand this exhibition for visitors and viewers.? The knowledge of the origins, meanings and associations of the title and the wording used in the exhibition. I was fortunate, I had the benefit of the artist Tawhai Rickard himself to answer my questions and to provide explanations. I think the exhibition, as part of the overall conflict commemoration and acknowledgement of loss, would benefit from the support of an expanded exhibition statement. Make sure you view this insightful portrayal of ANZAC.
ART + BODY GALLERY
TAWHAI RICKARD: Te Ope Tuatahi
Art + Body Gallery & Creative Studio 229A Maunganui Road Mount Maunganui 3116
Art + Body Gallery shows the work of contemporary New Zealand Maori artists
For more information: Julie Paama Pengelly 213 2213 or 021 331 072 www.facebook.com/artbodygalleryexhibitions
Rosemary Balu. Rosemary is the founding and current Editor of ARTbop.