Biculturalism, also known as the "throwing together" of Māori and European cultures, has inspired artists for more than a century. When Cecelia Kumeroa organised a group of Māori artists for a show at their old art school, she'd chosen her theme.

"Others wanted to jump on the old 'lets do Captain Cook, a protest against it'," she said. "I said 'well you're still talking about kaitiakitanga', so you're still talking about some things that have been seen as threats to our kaitiakitanga, guardianship."

"All of the work here is a response to kaitiakitanga."

Within her own art, Kumeroa likes "throwing together" references in unexpected ways.

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"I've been playing with animating William Morris prints," she said. "It was more about seeing how two quite different cultures, and design cultures, combined."

Cecelia Kumeroa knew that she wanted to curate the exhibition around kaitiakitanga. Photo / Georgie Ormond.
Cecelia Kumeroa knew that she wanted to curate the exhibition around kaitiakitanga. Photo / Georgie Ormond.

In 1995, a peaceful protest known as the occupation of Moutoa Gardens, now known as Pākaitore, captured the nation's attention, just across the road from the art school, now known as UCOL.

The protest dominated the headlines and divided the nation. And it set the stage for positive change in Whanganui.

"We've still got a lot of work to do but I think there's been great progress in Whanganui since the Pākaitore occupation."

I definitely agree with Mr. Bolger on that one
I definitely agree with Mr. Bolger on that one" artist Sacha Keating. Photo / Georgie Ormond.

It's an attitude echoed by one of the artists in the exhibition, Sacha Keating.

"I did read a piece the other day by the ex-prime minister, Jim Bolger," Keating said. "He made a comment about the treaty and the obligation to the treaty, and the fact that there was skulduggery in the original document."

"I thought that was interesting for a National [ex-politician]. Not really my cup of tea but I definitely agree with Mr Bolger on that one."

But Keating says there's much more work still to be done.

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"I work in an educational institute and I see a lot of displaced Māori and Pacific Islanders and Europeans who don't have a solid foundation in their heritage.

The old pa at Pākaitore with its mix of war monuments still remains as it was in 1995, with the exception of the head of New Zealand's 14th premier, John Ballance.

It was removed during the occupation and the remaining plinth like a contemporary artwork, remains headless - a reminder of Whanganui's history.

The missing head of John Ballance. Photo / Georgie Ormond.
The missing head of John Ballance. Photo / Georgie Ormond.

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