Ex­hi­bi­tion re­view | Ngahuia Har­ri­son

Cu­ra­tor Matariki Wil­liams re­views Ngahuia Har­ri­son’s re­cent light-box works, which formed part of The Earth Looks Upon Us / Ko Pa­p­atu¯a¯ nuku te Matua o te Tan­gata ex­hi­bi­tion

New Zealand D-Photo - - CONTENTS -

When I walked into the dark­ened Kirk Gallery, I was sur­prised to find tears in my eyes. It was an im­me­di­ate, and vis­ceral, re­ac­tion. A sim­ple ef­fect: dim­ming the room’s lights to en­able Ngahuia Har­ri­son’s (Ngati­wai, ¯ Nga­puhi) ¯ light-box pho­tographs to shine as bea­cons. In par­tic­u­lar, a kuia, Aunty Reo (2018), was po­si­tioned in the sight line of the door­way to beckon me in. Her image was there, en­veloped in the room along­side land­scapes of the rohe (boundary), and op­po­site an­other kuia, Aunty Mihi (2018).

To­gether, these two wahine ¯ en­cap­su­late the ti­tle of the artist’s most re­cent se­ries,

Nga ¯ Paepae Tapu. ‘Paepae’, the noun given to the bench from which kaiko­rero ¯ speak dur­ing oc­ca­sions such as powhiri, ¯ is not the noun used for this bench where Ngahuia is from. In­stead, the use of the word speaks to other mean­ings, ref­er­enc­ing the role of wahine ¯ in wel­com­ing peo­ple through karanga (cer­e­mo­nial call).

Ngahuia is one of five wahine ¯ Maori ¯ artists who ex­hib­ited at the Adam Art Gallery as part of The Earth Looks Upon Us /

Ko Pa­p­atu ¯ a¯ nuku te Matua o te Tan­gata, and I was look­ing for­ward to see­ing her work, in par­tic­u­lar. I first came across Har­ri­son in 2015, at the In­dige­nous Pho­to­graphic His­to­ries sym­po­sium, where she pre­sented a pa­per on be­half of Na­talie Robert­son (Ngati ¯ Porou, Clann Dhòn­n­chaidh), be­fore speak­ing on her own work. I saw within her pho­tos a filmic qual­ity, the work shared that day evok­ing the wondrous na­ture of Maori ¯ chil­dren that has been repli­cated in New Zealand film for decades, im­agery that re­minds me of a favourite child­hood movie, Barry Bar­clay’s (Ngati ¯ Apa) Ngati. ¯

I can’t re­call if it was shown at that sym­po­sium, but the cam­paign image for the ex­hi­bi­tion, Said, With Salt in Her Eye (2012), is a favourite. Again, it is the in­no­cence and won­der of this work that is so cap­ti­vat­ing; lo­cated within a for­est land­scape, a young girl’s face is cast sky­ward and view­ers are drawn to pon­der what it is she is see­ing, what it is she is think­ing. Though I am drawn to what this image evokes, I, too, am torn. My at­tri­bu­tion of a cin­e­matic un­der­stand­ing to the image of a young Maori ¯ girl, the lay­ered in­ter­pre­ta­tion of hope and de­par­ture that I im­pose on her, makes me con­tem­plate whether this should be a bur­den for her to bear.

This work is not in the dark­ened room that pro­voked my ini­tial re­ac­tion. It is around a cor­ner, on a bal­cony over­look­ing Ana Iti’s

(Te Rarawa) Only Fools are Lonely (2018), and look­ing to­wards Nova Paul’s (Te Uriro­roi / Te Parawhau, Nga ¯ Puhi) This Is Not Dy­ing (2010). It is as if she is search­ing for the source of the Nga­puhi ¯ an­them, Nga ¯ Puawai ¯ o ¯ Nga­puhi, ¯ that echoes through the gallery to her.

In the Kirk Gallery, I am lucky to have the room to my­self for most of my time here. It is just the works and me, and our joint si­lence. It is a si­lence that is only there in my pres­ence, for si­lence is not what the works in­duce in me. When I see her Aunty Reo and Aunty Mihi, I im­me­di­ately think of my nan­nies and the time I’ve spent at ta­bles with them, drink­ing tea, eat­ing rewena with but­ter and jam; sto­ries fall­ing from their mouths like crumbs for me to pick up.

When I see Ngahuia’s aun­ties, I think of sit­ting at my nan’s feet, mas­sag­ing her legs as she tells me sto­ries from her youth. The re­la­tion­ships cap­tured in Ngahuia’s pho­tos are rec­og­niz­able, but per­sonal: these are not my nan­nies, but they make me yearn for home. These are also not the pho­tos of my nan­nies, who I live so far away from, who grow older in every Face­book pro­file up­date. The qual­ity and scale of Ngahuia’s rep­re­sen­ta­tions re­it­er­ate just how in­ef­fi­cient low-res, on­line im­ages are in con­trast with be­ing with your whanau. ¯ Her works are a call home, no mat­ter where your home is.

In her 2017 TEDx Talk, Har­ri­son talked about the ca­pac­ity of im­ages and words, as­sert­ing that both have the abil­ity to carry with them our his­to­ries and re­la­tion­ships. This is ev­i­dent in the ven­er­a­ble space of the Kirk Gallery, the im­ages lit in a man­ner rem­i­nis­cent of the rev­er­en­tial way that taonga tu­turu ¯ are of­ten dis­played. Yet these taonga are con­tem­po­rary; they are ac­ces­si­ble to all who have re­la­tion­ships to the whenua, to the kuia in their whanau. ¯ They are the sepia scenes of our whanau ¯ pho­tos; they are our peo­ple alive again.

NGAHUIA HAR­RI­SON, NGA ¯ PAEPAE TAPU IN­STAL­LA­TION VIEW, PHOTO BY SHAUN MATTHEWS

NGAHUIA HAR­RI­SON, AUNTY MIHI (2018), IN­STAL­LA­TION PHOTO BY SHAUN MATTHEWS

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