documenta14: Maori art tells stories of the past on the prestigious world stage
A collective group of Maori women representing New Zealand at one of the world's most prestigious art exhibitions hope that the recognition they receive has "reverberating ripples" throughout the New Zealand art scene.
Mata Aho, a collective of four Maori artists, are representing New Zealand alongside the late Ralph Hotere and Christchurch artist Nathan Pohio at documenta – one of the world's largest and most highly-regarded contemporary art exhibitions – an event considered to be the "olympics for art".
It's the first time any artist from New Zealand has been invited to exhibit their work at the exhibition.
"We are really proud to be in such fine company. We also know that the fact we are all Maori won't go unnoticed within the art world of Aotearoa," the collective says.
"The recognition that comes from beyond our shores and the acknowledgement that we as a collective of wahine Maori who develop work through modes of wananga and focus on accessible materials which will be recognisable to our primary target audience of Maori is something we hope will have reverberating ripples through the New Zealand art scene."
The collective, made up of Bridget Reweti (Wellington), Sarah Hudson (Whakatane), Terri Te Tau (Pohangina Valley) and Erena Baker (Palmerston North) is presenting their work Kiko Moana, alongside work from the Hotere's work Malady Panels, taken from his series Black Paintings which he began in 1968, and Pohio's photographic images, Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course for the centre of an ever setting sun!
documenta has been held every five years since 1955. It was started at the Fridericianum Museum in Kassel by painter and academy professor Arnold Bode as a way to bring Germany back into contact with the world and connect through international art, following the devastating events of World War II.
He founded a society to present art – which the Nazis deemed as "degenerate" – as well as works from classical modernity that had never been seen in Germany.
The event, which runs for 100 days, has expanded to Athens as a way to acknowledge the start of civilisation, and to reflect on society following Greece's economy crash.
The New Zealand works are being exhibited in both locations. Hotere and Mata Aho Collective in Kassel and Pohio in Kassel and Athens.
Mata Aho Collective, who choose to be recognised as one entity, are presenting a 11m x 4m work, made from layers of iconic blue tarpaulin that is sewn together "in an ode to the often-overlooked practice of customary Maori sewing".
"The conceptual framework of taniwha characteristics came from taniwha narratives shared with us from our friends and whānau," the collective says.
"These characteristics are protection, communication and travel.
"We felt these notions were really fitting for exhibiting at documenta in an international context."
The narratives of taniwha are published on the group's website.
They've worked on the concept for nine months. The first-half was consumed by creating concept foundations and exploring the durability of materials, with the remainder of the time spent painstakingly weaving the material together.
No part of Kiko Moana was created independently – the women travelled all over the country to ensure the work was created within a wananga – a space where the collective slept, ate and worked.
"We couldn't begin to guess how many hours went into this work. We know time measurements are useful for some things, but to know all up might be a bit overwhelming," they say.
"It's important to travel, to be in the same place and acknowledge what each member has bought into the wananga space, but also what they have left behind to be there.
"It's not an easy task to continually get together. Our lives are full with family, friends, work and other projects, but it is vital for the health of our collective to spend extended amounts of time together while developing a project."
documenta curator Hendrik Folkerts says he is delighted to present another first in documenta history by showing work by New Zealand contemporary artists creating ground-breaking and radical forms of art.
"They have not only shaped, and continue to shape, New Zealand art history, but also make a significant contribution to the international discourse on contemporary art," he says.
The collective left for Kassel last week and will remain there for two weeks.
While the four women hope to continue their work as a collective post-documenta, they are also notable artists in their own right.
Reweti currently has work on exhibition at the Dowse Museum – This Time of Useful Consciousness: Political Ecology Now – until August.
Creative New Zealand contributed $122,798, via its International Presentation Fund, to enable the work to be presented at documenta and for New Zealand artists to attend.
Another prestigious moment for New Zealand art is Lisa Reihana's exhibition Lisa Reihana: Emissaries on show at La Biennale di Venezia in Venice. Her work, in Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015–17, will then feature in Sydney from January 2018, before moving onto London.
- The Dominion Post