Whanganui's Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics has a new installation.
Every year, Rick Rudd, founder and curator of Quartz, commissions an installation to be on display for most of the year. From each installation he buys a piece representative of the artist and the work, to be on permanent exhibition at Quartz.
Ko Au te Whenua, Ko te Whenua Ko Au (I am the land and the land is me) is a series of large clay figures by New Zealand potter Paerau Corneal (Ngati Uenuku ki Maunganui o te Ao, Ngati Tuwharetoa). The installation at Quartz is their New Zealand debut.
The installation was constructed in 2017 and was exhibited in the Drachten Arts Theatre Gallery in The Netherlands during a residency there.
"They came back and have been in crates ever since, so they've never been seen in New Zealand," says Rick Rudd.
The five clay works on wooden plinths reference the proverb in the title, asserting women as primaries with the land, linked by whakapapa and central to a Maori world view.
The figures are undoubtedly female, using traditional Maori carving imagery married with the artist's own technique and interpretation of form. Paerau has created each figure without breasts, yet that and their obvious physical heft does not diminish their femininity.
Paerau was born in 1961. She completed a Diploma in Craft Design, Maori, at Wairaiki Polytechnic in Rotorua in 1989 and a Master of Maori Visual Arts from Massey University, Palmerston North in 2009.
Her work has been shown in major exhibitions around New Zealand since 1989 and was included in Treasures of the Underworld in the New Zealand pavilion for the World Expo in Seville, Spain, in 1992. She has been a participant in Pacific Arts festivals in Rarotonga in 1992, the Solomon Islands in 2013 and Guam in 2016. Paerau is a member of Nga Kaihanga Uku (Maori Ceramic Artists' Collective), with which she has exhibited widely.
"I particularly wanted a Maori artist and she has an association with the Whanganui River. I've known her work for a long time," says Rick. "It's a way of acquiring works that have a meaning."