Ta Moko Atea a body of work by international artist Tracey Tawhiao continues at Art + Body Gallery until 16 May 2015 – make a point of visiting this exhibition of contemporary Maori Art.
Tawhiao has transformed Art + Body Gallery. I’ve never seen it look like this before. All the art and jewellery display cases have been moved from the front section of the gallery space and a wharenui forecourt space created but in a way you’ve probably never seen before.
Tukutuku panel reminiscent swathes of heavy brown paper embellished with overall white graphics fall ceiling to floor. Similarly embellished perspex, vinyl, mirror and glass create an ethereal, other worldly atmosphere. There is a line of circular embellished perspex mobiles hanging down the centre of the room. It is an entry to a world of light.
Draped around the body art/traditional ta moko workspace of gallery director Julie Paama-Pengelly are clear, heavy ceiling to floor cafe-curtains. Tawhiao has also covered these with white, traditionally referenced graphic designs. They divide and screen Paama-Pengelly’s workspace from the other activities in Art + Body. Later Tracey Tawhiao tells me the nature of the body art practised by Paama-Pengelly dictates that it is treated with reverence and respect and the screens and associated artwork are an endeavour to create that barrier from the everyday.
There is so much to see including a line of Tawhiao’s ubiquitous embellished garden spades/shovels.
I’m particularly glad I had the opportunity to see the overview of Tawhiao’s work which was included with her contribution to the recent Public Art Talks Tauranga.
I’ve come to the formal opening of this exhibition. The food and drinks are arranged with the same flair, precision, effort and care evident in the exhibition itself. A favourite of mine is there: fish pate with french bread. There’s also a large platter of cake – irresistable. Tracey and Julie are casually dressed. Friends, family and visitors come in, including Tracey’s Grandfather and I’m allowed to photograph them sitting together. Sadly Tracey’s Grandmother has just died and I’m told many of family are “on the island” preparing for the Tangi. Pauline Tawhiao, “the artist’s mother” also comes in while I’m there. I’m struck by here resemblance to her niece Julie Paama-Pengelly but Pauline assures me its mere coincidence as she has married in to the family. My visit is like being part of a family function and I wonder where else in the world would I be sitting eating, drinking and casually talking to an international artist and her family.
Close up Tracey Tawhiao is as charismatic and articulate as her Baycourt X Space panel performance. The hot-pink painted nails on long-fingered hands move and flutter as she talks. The eyes and face expressive but Tracey talks with her hands. She takes the time to tell me she’s been invited back to France as part of a Maori/Pacifica women artists exhibition originating from a PhD thesis on contemporary Maori women artists. She is to create a unique installation as part of an exhibition in a variety of locations in two French towns opening in November 2015.
Tawhiao also tells me about the start of her international arts career: “years ago in Cambridge” Tracey was involved in “enlivening” the museum’s Maori Collection. Including information about the objects displayed, who they belonged to, the culture they are part of. “It’s not over, it’s not dead and gone.” There was “a conversation” with a conference of all museum curators in Europe essentially about ways to reinvigorate museums and museum attendance. The Cambridge show example was taken up and museums “began to open up the perspective of artefacts to whole other scale of narrative.”
As I’m leaving local master photographer Bob Tulloch comes in with a photograph of Tracey’s late Grandmother. Tulloch has been photographing all the kaumatua and kuia of the marae between Bowen Town and Tauranga. An exhibition is planned of this indicative photo-record.
Tulloch describes Tawhiao’s exhibition as “outstanding” and I add that this exhibition should be in the Tauranga Art Gallery.
Tracey Tawahiao artist www.traceytawhiao.com
Art + Body Gallery, Maunganui Road, Mount Maunganui, NZ
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Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current editor of ARTbop.