Art & creativity  |  11 Apr 2024

In a full circle moment, a collection of works made in response to a journey on an expedition yacht around Aotearoa now travels back up the motu in an exhibition opening this weekend at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū.

When mixed-media artist Cora-Allan (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Tumutumu, Niue—Liku, Alofi) set off on a two-week voyage last year to document coastal Aotearoa landscapes, she knew that Pacific, Māori and Pākēha histories and culture would feature in her works, says the Gallery’s Pouarataki Curator Māori Chloe Cull. 

“The collection of work that materialised during this journey, seen in Cora-Allan: Encountering Aotearoa, is a celebration of identity and a reassertion of connection to place.  

“Cora-Allan considers many perspectives, both past and present, through the works in this exhibition. After researching the artists and botanists that were on board the Endeavour on its journey around Aotearoa New Zealand in 1769, Cora-Allan reflected on the way they collectively created an image of this country that forever changed its place in history,” Cull says. 

“As a response, Cora-Allan has created a significant body of new work that also considers the whenua (land) from the vantage point of the moana (sea), but from an indigenous perspective.” 

While at sea – a series of paintings on hiapo (barkcloth from Niue) – illustrates each landing place using botanical motifs, while another large-scale work, Ko ao, ko ao, ko Aotearoa, connects to Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the framing replicates the dimensions of British Resident James Busby’s (1802–1871) house at Waitangi. 

Cora-Allan Ōtautahi (Christchurch) from the series While at sea 2023. Whenua, kāpia ink, hiapo, brass. Courtesy of the artist.

“Another core aspect of Cora-Allan's practice is her representation of the whenua using materials sourced from the whenua. Featured extensively is the artform of hiapo, Niuean cloth made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree, on which many works are painted,” Cull says. 

“Cora-Allan is the first practitioner in at least two generations to revive this artform. It’s a skill she’s refined over many years.”  

She also draws from nature with the use of whenua-pigment as paint. Sourced from earth, the pigments are unique to their geographical origin and have a rich history of use by Māori. 

Cora-Allan was joined on the trip by her pāpā Kelly Lafaiki (Niue – Liku, Alofi) and fellow artist and friend Emily Parr (Ngāi Te Rangi, Moana, Pākehā).

“There are so many details to this exhibition that will delight and resonate with audiences, so we’re encouraging everyone to come see it and to hear Cora-Allan speak at the artist talk on opening day.”  

Encountering Aotearoa runs from Saturday 13 April to 25 August at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū.