Key Points:

In a show based around misinterpretation, be careful what you read into the work. What it means may depend on what you bring to it. Try looking another way.

Brett Graham's installation at Two Rooms is at first wilfully obvious. Here are the plans. Here's the bomber - and the bombs. Looking for terrorists? Look no further. This is, as the title puts it, the Campaign Room.

But this is art, so perhaps there's another layer. And another, from someone who has proved himself one of our more reflective sculptors.

"It's like you have just stumbled across some terrorist headquarters," says Graham, as he describes his attempt to process feelings about what many Maori see as the police persecution of Tame Iti and his companions when they were arrested in the Ureweras last year.

"I was looking at terrorism as a heavy thing and the whole thing of the fear of brown people with guns, even though 70 per cent of the Army is Maori," he says.

"It is asking the question, 'Is it terrorism if it's state-sponsored, as opposed to some crazy cell in the suburbs?'

"The pretext was the Air Force base at Te Rapa that was given back to Tainui as part of its settlement, and fantasising that since that time we have been building our own weapons of mass destruction."

And what weapons they are. Dominating one side of the gallery floor is a black-painted wooden model of the F117 Nighthawk stealth bomber, waiting to be cast in bronze. Stealth bombers are designed so radar beams bounce off at odd angles, protecting the plane from detection.

"I find them ugly because of all the facets, but that ugliness grew on me."

Graham called his plane Te Hokioi, after the eagle with the 3m wingspan which died off about the same time as its prey, the moa.

It is also the name of the Kingitanga newspaper produced in 1862-63 by Wiremu Toetoe and Hemara Te Rerehau on the press given to them by Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.

"The bird is a backhanded compliment to my father [sculptor Fred Graham]. He's the bird man."

Carved on the facets is a pattern which Graham says is intended to evoke the feeling of his awa, the Waikato River, which has its own stealth mechanisms.

"The currents go up and down. That's why the old people created that expression 'he piko, he taniwha' [at every bend a taniwha]. If they saw the current moving against the river, they assumed it was a taniwha."

The carving is a way Graham marks himself off from his father's pioneering generation of Maori modernists who were influenced by Henry Moore and Constantin Brancusi to pare their sculptures back to the essential form.

"To me they threw away the baby with the bathwater. My father's the same, he threw out a lot of that surface patterning I really love. That's why that plane has got it, this is all about rediscovering that."

Te Hokioi harks back to another Graham bomber, 2004's cast-iron Foreshore Defender, which goes on show at Nelson's Suter Art Gallery next week. That is the nearest gallery to the Marlborough Sounds, where Ngati Apa mounted the legal challenge which led to the foreshore and seabed rights debate.

"A lot of Maori assume from the shape that it is a stingray," Graham says.

It could even be Te Ika a Maui, the North Island. Across the gallery is the South Island, Te Waka a Maui, carved in cool white marble. He has also returned to cast iron, arranging bomb moulds on the wall in patterns that hark back to tukutuku or the frangipani flower shapes of Fatu Feu'u - a deliberate joke.

"They are based on the Davy Crockett missile, which was the smallest nuclear weapon. They tested it in two places in Hawaii and left a lot of radioactivity, but it was during the height of the Cold War so no one cared."

Graham did postgraduate study at the University of Hawaii in the late 1980s after earning his fine arts degree at Elam, and still retains affection for the islands.

"It was really important for me because it was a real centre as far as Pacific scholarship goes. It was interesting seeing that broader Pacific scholarship and not just Maori."

In the gallery's back room is a video based on the story of Omai, the Tahitian taken to England in 1773, who was interpreter on James Cook's second and third voyages. Painters like Joshua Reynolds had trouble making visual sense of their first Polynesian subject, rendering his tapa wraps as Middle Eastern robes.

A colleague from Graham's Hawaii years, poet Teresia Teaiwa, who now lectures in Pacific studies at Victoria University, said the job of artists was to create powerful symbols about the Pacific. "That has always rung in my head about a job we have to do."

Exhibition
What: Campaign Rooms, by Brett Graham.
Where and when: Two Rooms Gallery, Putiki St, Newton, to Dec 20.