I recently spent a weekend in Wellington catching up with the local art scene. The capital is well-endowed with an art scene that, contrary to what our prime minister thinks of the city in general, is alive and well, some would say thriving.
My first stop was to Porirua to visit Pataka, a regional gallery that I am ashamed to say I have never been to before. I was very pleasantly surprised as this place is doing everything right. On the Saturday when I visited it really was thriving with numerous people making the most of what was on offer. And what a lot there was on offer. As well as a performing arts venue, the library and the mandatory café, Pataka has a variety of exhibiting spaces. On the weekend that I visited there were no fewer than six shows.
In Flyte was a survey show highlighting work from the last fifteen years of the now well-established and highly respected Niki Hastings-McFall. The range of this exhibition showcased the breadth of her practice which spans installation, mixed-media, sculpture and jewellery. I found it intriguing to see just how much this artist works in series – with her lei works to her more recent Cloud series. Her practice has always included an exploration into what it means to be of Pacific decent living in Aotearoa today. The lei motif has been a constant in her investigations, aiming to reclaim its cultural significance vis a vis the ubiquitous plastic touristic cliché.
Same Difference was small show by Palmerston North photographer Warwick Smith. “The exhibition features a series of double portraits of a child aged between 6 and 12 together with that child’s great-grandparent of the same gender. Despite a gap of four generations the photographs show a remarkable resemblance.”(1) These 13 large scale photos display in a satisfyingly engaging and sympathetic way a celebration of ethnic diversity, even within families, of family, of connection, and of longevity.
Baskets of Melanesia was a comprehensive display of often quite exquisite examples of weaving. Plimmerton Coastal Quilters: Celebrating 25 Years and The Creative Fibre National Exhibition (showcasing the winners of a national competition) boasted that fabric art in New Zealand is also thriving.
However, the show that most interested me was Painting Pakistan Proud, an exhibition featuring the quite startling practice of Pakistani truck art. A series of photographs by New Zealand photographer Peter Grant was accompanied by a bountiful collection of metal jugs and boxes, hurricane lamps and trays, all decorated in Pakistan, coordinated by Pakistani Anjum Rana (2). Grant became interested in this curiously Pakistani pursuit when travelling the sub-continent on an Indian-built Enfield motorbike in 1995. He recalls:
Appearing out of the mist was the silhouette of a bizarrely shaped vehicle. As it rumbled past I was dazzled by its kaleidoscope of colours – almost psychedelic. I was blown away. When I realised they were a common form of transport I felt an immediate compulsion to document them. (3)
The origins of this contemporary day practice is in the tradition of the old Silk Road where traders decorated their camels with bright coloured fabric and trinkets to attract trade along the route. There is something quite Moghul about the designs of birds and animals united with intricate patterning. Rana also brought one artist from Pakistan to decorate an old ambulance in the style but with the addition of some Kiwiana elements. The painting was happening out in the courtyard the day I visited. When complete, the painted ambulance will be driven around Wellington and then up to Auckland.
PJ MacBridges – May 2013
(2) This collection was all offered for sale at very reasonable prices. See Arjum Rana’s website – http://www.tribaltruckart.net
(3) From the wall information supplied during the exhibition.