A new immersive exhibition at Te Puna o Waiwhetū Christchurch Art Gallery – Te Wheke: Pathways Across Oceania – brings a fresh Pacific-centred perspective to our local identity.
Developed in collaboration with Stephanie Oberg, a curator of Cook Islands heritage, Te Wheke: Pathways Across Oceania takes an “outwards” approach from the Pacific, reversing the usual Western-focused gaze.
Art Gallery Lead Curator Felicity Milburn points out that art in New Zealand is often viewed “through the lens of our ties to Europe and Western art history”.
“However, we wanted to try a new perspective – from Moana-nui-a-kiwa (the Pacific Ocean) outwards,” she explains.
The exhibition – featuring a mix of traditional and contemporary art forms – shows Pacific links “across time and place”. The title refers to the adventurous Pacific octopus – known as te Wheke in te reo Māori – a symbol of early voyages from the Polynesian home of Hawaiki.
“Te Wheke reveals the Pacific Ocean as a place of vulnerability and resistance, threatened by natural forces like earthquakes and tsunami, as well as human-caused harm such as colonisation, climate change and environmental exploitation,” Ms Milburn says.
“These artworks are beautiful but complicated, and can be confronting. They open up conversations on the relationships and tensions that shape our past, present and future.”
Several recent Gallery acquisitions will also be on display for the first time, complemented by rare pieces from outside collections.
Among the new acquisitions is Not of This Time (Dreamland), a work by one of the Pacific’s most important artists and writers, Niuean-born John Pule.
Exploring navigation, belonging and identity across Oceania, the exhibition includes tivaevae, raranga (weaving), whakairo (carving), painting, works on paper, video, sculpture, photography and installation art.
Te Wheke: Pathways Across Oceania opens on Friday, 10 April.