Brett Graham’s new solo exhibition counters privileged narratives with decolonised histories.
Presenting five “monumental” sculptures and three digitally animated short films, Tai Moana Tai Tangata is an exhibition of new major works at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery by sculptor and installation artist, Dr Brett Graham (Ngāti Kōroki Kahukura, Tainui).
The exhibition, on until 15 March, revisits key events in New Zealand colonial history, such as the beaching of the steamer Lord Worsley at Te Namu and the dispossession of Māori lands in the late 19th century. Graham, who was the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery’s Creative New Zealand Artist in Residence in 2019, explores the severe penalties of the colonial process upon both Māori and landscape and draws on the context of Taranaki Māori to remember strategies of resistance to colonisation.
The aim of the sculptures is to memorialise significant Māori experiences. The exhibition questions what is chosen to commemorate and how this practice often services a forgetfulness of Indigenous narratives. Graham asks what our monuments might mean in the future if we constructed them with a better understanding of the past.
Installation images from Brett Graham’s Tai Moana Tai Tangata, at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. Photography by Neil Pardington.
One of the five monuments is a ten metre tall niu: a ceremonial cross structure erected by followers of the Pai Māirire faith in the mid-19th century. Graham’s niu holds miniature pātaka (Māori food storehouses) on each arm of the cross. The architecture of the pātaka references the historic Māori bank at Parihika pā, often thought of as a symbol of Māori adaptability and appropriation in resistance to processes of assimilation.
Work by Graham also features in the touring multi-media exhibition WAI – the Water Project (at Sarjeant Gallery until 7 February) which celebrates Aotearoa’s fresh water as essential to our wellbeing and considers the management and legacies of our shared resources. Graham’s video installation Plus and Minus aims to counter the vilification of irrigators. He has recorded twelve revolving effluent spreaders belonging to Waikato farmer, Stu Muir, who uses them to redistribute cow waste onto his land and away from the Waikato River.
By Lucy Wormald