The first major Oceanic art show held in the United Kingdom opens in London next month, with some of New Zealand's highest-profile Māori and Pasifika artists taking part.
Ten contemporary visual artists, including Fiona Pardington, Michael Parekowhai, John Pule and Lisa Reihana, have work in Oceania at the Royal Academy of Arts. The exhibition is timed to coincide with the 250th anniversary year of the Royal Academy, which was founded in 1768 — the same year as Captain James Cook's first Endeavour expedition.
Spanning more than 500 years, it includes around 200 works showcasing the art and culture of New Zealand, Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. Some has been undocumented and unseen in the stores of European museums for centuries.
But the Royal Academy says Oceania will also be a "revelation of modernity" with contemporary art that highlights the relevance of the past as well as the challenges of the present. A statement released via the Royal Academy says New Zealand's own future is inextricably linked to the prosperity and stability of the Pacific.
"The peoples of the Pacific are navigating challenges unprecedented in the thousands of years since they began to settle this vast ocean. A deeper international understanding of the Pacific — of its history and its future, including since European engagement began over 250 years ago — is vital to help meet those challenges."
Alongside the high-profile exhibition, New Zealand and Pacific Island countries will hold events to promote discussion and debate in the UK about opportunities in the Pacific and the global issues facing the region such as climate change, security challenges and sustainable development.
Creative New Zealand is spending $170,000 to send artworks to London and fund the travel and accommodation for artists attending the opening of Oceania and participating in public programmes around the exhibition. These include symposiums to discuss the power and diversity of Oceanic art but also some of the issues around its collection, display and interpretation.
All New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Kingdom of Tonga passport holders will be given free access into it.
The last major international exhibition on Oceanic art was nearly 40 years ago at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
The work on display is:
•Lisa Reihana's internationally acclaimed in Pursuit of Venus [Infected], 2015-2017. The panoramic video was the centrepiece of Reihana's presentation for the New Zealand pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2017 in Venice.
•John Pule's Kehe tau hauaga foou-To All New Arrivals, 2007, five large paintings on canvas melding enamels, ink, oil, pastel, polyurethane, contemporary, mythology and traditional Niuean forms to comment on a history of colonisation and migration in the Pacific.
•Fiona Pardington exhibits five portraits from her The Pressure of Sunlight Falling, a series of photographs of life casts made by medical scientist and phrenologist Pierre Dumoutier during one of French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville's South Pacific voyages from 1837 to 1840.
•Sculptor and installation artist Michael Parekowhai's ornately-carved, red painted Steinway concert grand piano, He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: The Story of a New Zealand River, 2011. The work was the centrepiece of On First looking into Chapman's Homer, Parekowhai's 2011 Venice Biennale work.
•Photographer Mark Adams' Chalfont Crescent, Mangere, South Auckland. Jim Taofinu'u. Tufuga tatatau: Su'a Sulu'ape Paulo II, 30 June 1985. The photograph is part of a body of work which explores the cross cultural milieu and work of tatau (tattoo) master Su'a Sulu'ape Paulo II. The photographs of tatau making and tatau recipients were taken in Auckland and Europe during 40 years and show the controversial globalisation of tatau that began in the Samoan diaspora to Auckland in the 1970s.
•Yuki Kihara, an interdisciplinary artist, presents the video Siva in Motion, 2012. Dressed in a Victorian mourning dress, Kihara performs a taualuga, a traditional Siva Sāmoa (Sāmoan dance), inspired by conversations with survivors of the 2009 Tsunami. It describes the movements of the wave which killed more than 189 people in American Sāmoa, Sāmoa and Tonga.
•The Mata Aho Collective of Erena Baker, Sarah Hudson, Bridget Reweti and Terri Te Tau show Kiko Moana, 2017, which incorporates customary Māori sewing techniques to portray the tradition of innovation.
At the same time Oceania opens, two other New Zealand artists have work opening in London. Francis Upritchard's Wetwang Slack is at the Barbican Centre while Luke Willis-Thompson is one of four artists shortlisted for Britain's prestigious Turner Prize and features in the Tate Britain's Turner Prize exhibition.
• Oceania opens on Saturday, September 29 and runs until Monday, December 10.