Exhibition acknowledges bi-cultural foundations
When Tawhai Rickard opened his new exhibition at Tauranga Art Gallery, he asked his friends and guests to come along dressed in Victorian garb.
“I just thought it would be a bit of fun to come dressed like that,” says Tawhai. “It creates some micro-cultural event.”
Watching people dressed in Victorian clothing while they wandered through the exhibition was like viewing an exhibition within an exhibition and it created a subtle challenging statement about colonisation and bi-culturalism which was also by design of the artist.
Auckland artist Evan Woodruffe and Jeanne Clayton came to the exhibition launch dressed fabulously in clothing printed from Evan's paintings. Evan took to heart the Victorian theme, reinterpreting it in his own way. Photo: Rosalie Liddle Crawford.
“I’m not necessarily ‘pro’ anything,” says Tawhai. “I’m acknowledging our bi-cultural foundations. Because our country has been and should be bi-cultural. And we are multicultural yes, but our foundations are bi-cultural as well. Two great nations settled this country. Ok so Maori were here way back and then the European came in. But our foundations are bi-cultural.”
The entrance doorway into the ‘The Misadventures of Te Kuri’ exhibition features ‘Te Kuri o Paoa’ – signifying Young Nick’s Head, made from wood with enamel and acrylic paint.
Inside the gallery room itself are 16 individual pieces, each telling a story, and within their centre is ‘Te Kuri Hybrid Mobile’ made from action figures, metal mechanisms, repurposed wood, shellac and acrylic paint; and ‘Te Waka o Te Kuri’ – a waka made from repurposed antique furniture, wood and enamel and acrylic paint.
As well as plucking from Victorian life, Tawhai has delved into 1960s American pop culture for his first solo exhibition at Tauranga Art Gallery which opened on May 22 and runs until mid-September.
‘The Misadventures of Te Kuri’ examines two Maori super heroes Te Kuri and Pipiwharauroa who navigate their way throughout the historical and contemporary cultural landscapes of Aotearoa New Zealand, often in the face of adversity and antagonism.
Their perilous journey frequently transcends time through the injection of notable characters, events, vernacular and symbolism.
“The two super heroes are metaphorical,” says Tawhai. “They’re not actually Batman and Robin. They symbolise something else – Maori culture through Te Kuri who is the Batman figure, and Pipiwharauroa is the natural world, which is the personification of Robin. They navigate their way through our history and oftentimes face antagonism.”
A self-employed visual artist, Tawhai was born in Turanganui-a-Kiwa, Gisborne in 1968. He currently lives and works in Tauranga. He has dived into the decade of his birth for inspiration for this exhibition.
Simone Anderson, Lynette Fisher and Emma Cole attending the exhibition opening. Photo: Rosalie Liddle Crawford.
“The 1960s Batman series was quite lampoonish and they always found themselves in the clutches of the villain at the end of the show, about to be executed by some means. It’s kind of like that, but I’m using our own historical factual figures like, say Queen Victoria…or bringing it right back to these days - John Key – running into these types of characters. And it’s about the Maori culture as well, having that adversity, and those tribulations and experiences.”
The Te Kuri or Batman figure represents Maori culture.
“He is more the human side,” says Tawhai. “And Pipwharauroa is Robin and he represents more the natural world.”
Through the collection of pieces, Tawhai captures the kaupapa of the perilous journey Maori have often faced during their history.
Many of Tawhai’s works in the exhibition have been made from repurposing furniture or wood, such as ‘Te Mangai o Te Kuri’ – the mouthpiece of Te Kuri, made from an antique telephone with metal fretwork. Using ink and acrylic paint, Tawhai provides enough imagery around the telephone, with small figures and words, to convey meaning and draw the viewer in for a closer look.
There are also small acrylics in antique frames including ‘Lord Grey’s Tea Party’ and ‘Kuini Wikitoria – Queen Victoria’.
The Victorian theme was taken to heart by Tawhai’s friend and Auckland artist Evan Woodruff who has an existential compulsion to create art, arriving at the exhibition launch wearing a velvet jacket, waist coat and gold tie pin. Accompanied by Jeanne Clayton, his clothing and her scarf were covered in his colourful designs. Evan himself held a three month exhibition at Tauranga Art Gallery in 2018, showing his colourful, dynamic work, and enjoyed returning to support the opening of Tawhai’s exhibition.
Tawhai is the supreme award winner 2018 Miles Art Awards at Tauranga Art Gallery, and inaugural winner of the 2016 Te Ha Art Awards in Gisborne, Tairawhiti.
His exhibition ‘Te Haerenga Tukino Te Iwi Maori/The Misadventures of Te Kuri' will continue until September 12 at Tauranga Art Gallery Toi Tauranga on the corner of Willow St and Wharf St. The gallery is open from 10am – 4pm, seven days per week.