In late September this year, a major international event for Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific opened—Oceania, at The Royal Academy of Arts in London, an exhibition that features artworks by contemporary artists including Mark Adams, Yuki Kihara, Mata Aho Collective, Fiona Pardington, Michael Parekowhai, John Pule and Lisa Reihana alongside the Oceanic artefacts held by The Royal Academy, and museums in Europe and the Pacific.
As this is one of the most significant and extensive displays of New Zealand, Māori and Pasifika art displayed outside of New Zealand in recent years, online art publishing platform Contemporary HUM took the opportunity to organise a panel discussion, Whose Oceania?, which was held at the New Zealand High Commission on 29 September 2018, specifically to coincide with the opening weekend of the Oceania exhibition.
The panel discussion bought together several professionals from different backgrounds and practices—UK-based historian and Beit Professor of Imperial and Commonwealth History at Oxford University James Belich, Curator Mātauranga Māori at Te Papa Matariki Williams, and was co-chaired by Editor of The Pantograph Punch Lana Lopesi, along with HUM Editor Pauline Autet (the last panelist Fiona Pardington was unfortunately unable to join in).
On the day, the panelists not only offered their own informed and critical responses to the show, but they also attempted to address wider questions surrounding the presentation of historical and contemporary works in foreign contexts, such as the Royal Academy, and discussed the link to the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific—all from a distinctly New Zealand and Pacific point of view.
“And then also from an institutional perspective, I know that what you see on the floor and what you read on the labels is not the final story. Any institution worth its salt will have public programmes where they invite in differing opinions or differing perspectives of the source communities. That’s when you get to complicate the situation. And I mean that as a good thing, to complicate these histories, because they are complicated.” - Matariki Williams
An edited version of the discussion has now been published on Contemporary HUM's website, available for all who couldn't attend the event, or for those who were there on the day and would like to revisit some of the themes and topics that were discussed. You can read it here.
Whose Oceania? was a special event made possible with funding from Creative New Zealand, and we hope it will inspire more spirited conversation around historic and contemporary NZ art. We would like to give a special thank you to everyone involved including the New Zealand High Commission and New Zealand Studies Network.