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TOI MAORI The Eternal Thread; and other exhibitions at PATAKA

Lucy Chapman

Visual Arts


Currently Porirua’s Pataka art gallery has a number of small but varied art exhibitions. Pataka generally hosts collections that are based on a particular culture and at the moment we see exhibitions that look at certain aspects of Maori, Indian, Canadian Indian and even Rwandan societies. The main exhibition TOI MAORI The Eternal Thread looks at the changing art of Maori weaving. Including both contemporary and traditional elements of Maori arts and crafts the exhibition is said to be the first major collection of its kind. So major in fact that Prince Edward is dropping by on his jaunt around the North Island.
TOI MAORI looks principally at the kakahu, the decorative and ceremonial cloaks that are handed down through generations of Maori families. The exhibition stresses the importance of the cloak as a sign of status through historic black and white photographs of major tribal leaders. However TOI MAORI also shows us how the traditional cloak has evolved through the works of modern artists and weavers. The use of modern or industrial materials in the traditional format is common throughout the exhibition. Diane Prince’s ‘Nga Puhihio Nga Whetu’, which shapes a copper mesh into a delicate sculptural form is a beautiful example of this. The best use of the modern with the traditional is Maureen Lander’s ‘Wai o Te Marama’, which incorporates UV lighting into the work. She takes the traditional maro (apron) framework but then layers it and stretches it out to give it a three dimensional form. To add to this she has cleverly whitened parts of the flax to pick up the UV light, creating an ethereal and light piece. Lonnie Hutchinson’s clever cloak shaped paper fan entitled ‘Rapuki 1.8’, further reminds us of the skill and patience that goes into this great art form.
The collection also includes other Maori art forms such as carving, tukutuku panels and flax weaving. TOI MAORI successfully aims to redress the gender imbalance that its predecessor TE MAORI was criticised for. Although the traditional style pieces are still amazing to look at, it is the works that take on a modern twist which are the real highlight of TOI MAORI. The exhibition reassures us that the weaving tradition is alive and well, and developing in new and interesting fields.
Also at Pataka are New Zealand photographer Sarah Stuart’s photos of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. This exhibition shows us the aftermath of what is described as “the worst 100 days of rape, torture and butchery known to man”. Mostly the photographs are of Tutsi orphans who are infected with AIDS, or churches that were the scenes of mass murders. However one photo stands out particularly. It is the photo of a typical agrarian scene that can be found in many tropical countries – except this seemingly unblemished pasture artificially undulates from all the mass graves beneath it, serving as a haunting reminder of Rwanda’s all too recent past. Stuart seems particularly fond of juxtaposing places that were the scenes of immense violence with Western ads for cigarettes and cars. The exhibition clearly expresses the anger that many feel about how this genocide was allowed to happen while the world practically stood by and watched.
On a much less violent note is Pataka’s Gandhi exhibition, which contains video footage and black and white images of the peaceful protestor. The portraits of Mahatma Gandhi are all by Bombay-based photographer D.R.D Wadia, who actually knew Gandhi personally. The photos are mostly headshots and images of him sitting cross-legged at his independence rallies and represent the most critical years of his life. The exhibition also includes a brief history of Gandhi and India’s road to Independence as well as some of Gandhi’s letters written at the time. His efforts to resist the use of British cloth led to the resurgence of khadi (homespun cloth) and of course made the spinning wheel symbolic to the Indian independence movement. Fittingly the exhibition also includes some of Gandhi’s own homespun threads and hankies.
Keeping along the same strand of thought is Pataka’s smaller exhibition entitled First Nation. First Nation is a small collection of craft from the indigenous people of Canada. These ethnic artefacts use interesting materials such as beaver fur, moose hide and deer toes. The most surprising thing about the works in First Nation is their striking similarities to those seen in TOI MAORI in terms of the geometric patterns used. Canadian viewers will have an opportunity to see this for themselves when TOI MAORI, after it closes at Pataka, goes on a two-year tour of the United States and Canada.