An acclaimed exhibition criticised for containing scenes of cannibalism has been defended by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

The film-based installation "The Fourth Wall", by celebrated German artist Clemens von Wedemeyer, explores the relationship between fact and fiction in documentary-making.

It focuses on the controversial 1971 "discovery" of the Tasaday people in the Philippines, who were purportedly still living primitively and untouched by civilisation.

"It looks at the notion of first contact between Western scientists and so-called 'found' people," Dunedin Public Art Gallery (DPAG) curator Aaron Kreisler said yesterday.


"We've had one person complain. That's the only direct negative feedback we've received.

"There is a fleeting moment of a simulation of cannibalism from a film clip. It's a sensational representation which lasts about 20 seconds, but it's quite clearly not a real moment," he said.

A sign at the entrance to the gallery warns that the exhibition contains "images of simulated violence".

"We don't seek to cause offence but, historically, some people have always had a strong reaction to contemporary art," Mr Kreisler said.

"That is the nature of art and we get such a diverse range of people bringing a range of beliefs and experience to the gallery. Sometimes it's a case of 'What are you bringing to the art experience?"'

About 4000 people visited the DPAG a week, he said.

"It's not a show that's trying to create sensationalism. People see much more graphic images on their TVs and PCs every day. It's educational. It's a very significant exhibition by one of the most significant German artists.

"The Otago Museum has artefacts on display which were actually used in cannibalism. So, anyone wanting to see something really graphic could go and have a look there."

University of Otago theatre and performing arts studies lecturer Dr Jonathan Marshall will hold a talk on the exhibition at 3pm in the gallery on Sunday.

The exhibition will finish on October 28.