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The Taika Effect

Jamie Hanton
Signe Rose, Gösser Chandelier (2014) [detail]
The Lowdown with Mark Amery looks at the reaction to the charismatic Kiwi’s “ceiling-breaking” Oscars win, in a week highlighting why we underestimate the arts at our peril.


Māori Filmmakers Step Up

This week we published a feature on media around Concert FM, but of course the other big arts news making a major media splash this week is Taika Waititi winning an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit

For a fun wrap-up of the reactions, I recommend Monika Barton on Newshub. The dedication in Waititi’s acceptance speech sent ripples everywhere: “I dedicate this to all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories, we are the original storytellers and we can make it here, as well." 

While it’s not actually true, as widely reported (the LA Times no less) that Waititi is the first Māori to win an Academy award (that honour goes to Ngāti Porou’s Russell Crowe, or if you quibble, twice to sound engineer Hammond Peek), perhaps his most important first, as written about at, was this groundbreaking Oscars statement: “The academy would like to acknowledge that tonight we have gathered on the ancestral lands of the Tongva, the Tataviam, and the Chumash. We acknowledge them as the first peoples of this land on which the motion pictures community lives and works.”

“I dedicate this to all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories, we are the original storytellers and we can make it here, as well." 

On RNZ’s Morning Report producer Libby Hakaraia called Waititi's win “a ceiling-breaking moment” for indigenous storytellers, but commented that the world needs diversity to punch through. "We have a feature film coming through at the moment - Cousins - it is the first time that two female Māori directors are at the helm, this is terrible, this can't continue, so these are the power structures we're battling against."

Hakaraia is co-founder of the celebrated indigenous Māoriland Film Festival in Ōtaki, which last week announced its March programme. It opens with action-comedy The Legend of Baron Toa directed by Tainui filmmaker Kiel McNaughton, which gets a release elsewhere in New Zealand February 20. Here’s the trailer.

Meanwhile, if you really want to see a Māori filmmaker step up, you will want to keep abreast of the defamation suit in the High Court this week by Sir Bob Jones against director Renae Maihi. She organised a petition calling for him to stripped of his knighthood after he called for an annual ‘Māori Gratitude Day’ in a column in 2018. Here’s The Spinoff’s Leonie Hayden on the case.

Highlighting why the arts matter

The above and the RNZ Concert saga made it quite the week for a former press secretary to Christopher Finlayson during his time as Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Ben Thomas to write an Op Ed on why it is politically hard to care about the arts.

Thomas rightly points to his minister’s strong work in maintaining funding for Creative New Zealand in a National government and comments on the lack of gratitude shown in response from the arts community. Thomas’s beef is a whining, ungrateful arts sector, yet it has to be said he makes no attempt to come to grips with why that sector is unhappy with the current government’s support.

The article was followed on Tuesday by a discussion with Creative New Zealand chair Michael Moynahan on what the arts contribute to the economy on RNZ’s The Panel.

"arts writing has suffered as a result of what’s happened to media in this country and when issues like Concert FM or the demise of literary journals hit the headlines, it really shows"

Then on Wednesday, Newsroom published a splendid piece by Anna Rahwiti-Connell that spoke to another issue behind coverage of the Concert FM debacle: “More than anything for me, the nature of the debate about Concert FM has highlighted the slow erosion of arts and culture writing in this country. This issue has had plenty of coverage, but most has been approached using a political or media industry lens… arts writing has suffered as a result of what’s happened to media in this country and when issues like Concert FM or the demise of literary journals hit the headlines, it really shows.“

As of this year, Rawhiti-Connell notes, there isn’t an arts writing category at the annual Voyager Media Awards.

Dunedin Playwrights and Arts

Later this month the doors are due to open on the University of Otago’s Music, Theatre and Performing Arts Centre, as reported here in the Otago Daily Times. In a nice touch, each room in the centre will represent a different native songbird and will be painted a different shade of green.

Staying in Dunedin, playwright Emily Duncan has just finished productive time as Robert Burns fellow, and in the Otago Daily Times talks to Rebecca Fox about how the fellowship has allowed her to help others living with Cushing’s disease. In January Rebecca Fox also gave an extensive rundown in the ODT of the performing arts ahead in Dunedin in 2020.

Fox has been busy: she also spoke to artist Imogen Taylor at the end of her Hodgkins Fellowship.

Still in Dunners: on the New Zealand playwright agency Playmarket’s site there is an obituary by Alister McDonald recognising the tremendous contribution of theatre director Campbell Smith, who passed away in December. Smith was director of Dunedin’s much-missed professional theatre, the Fortune between 1985 and 1999. Smith directed the world premiere of 11 of Roger Hall’s plays.

Playmarket publishes a monthly ebulletin of news relating to fresh New Zealand playwriting and theatre you can subscribe to. Amongst its news this month is the shortlist of 12 plays for the Adam New Zealand Play Award 2020. It includes new plays by well-known playwrights Hone Kouka, Tanya Muagututi’a and Carl Nixon.

Jamie Hanton

Gallery Movements

Masterton has a dealer gallery. This month, sculptor Harry Watson has opened The Watson Gallery (Instagram and Facebook) in an upstairs art deco space downtown. In delightful idiosyncratic fashion, he introduces us to the location and his approach in this video, including the toilets where there are plans for a ”gallery of miniatures”. Watson has commenced with an exhibition of his own excellent work (”The first and only time I will show my work”) - a second video in which Watson attempts to interview Watson is here. He follows it up in March with another excellent local artist Jason Burns, whose paintings feature in this profile with Artist Portfolio magazine.

Up in Auckland, some space hopping: leading dealer Trish Clark has moved from the Auckland CBD and joined the galleries clustered just off Great North Road, to the space previously occupied by Hopkinson Mossman (now Mossman gallery in Wellington), which opens at the end of the month. Down in Wellington, outsider art space Roar gallery has begun the new year by moving in close to Enjoy Gallery and Robert Heald Gallery in Cuba Street’s Leftbank. 

In other gallery news: senior curator at the Dowse Art Museum, Melanie Oliver has been appointed a curator at Christchurch Art Gallery. She is no stranger to Ōtautahi, having previously directed The Physics Room. Oliver reflects on her time at the Dowse in this piece on their website.

Meanwhile Jamie Hanton will leave as Director, The Physics Room later this year to be the managing curator of the Scape public art programme.

Minister progresses Arts and Well-being Strategy

Finally in news this Lowdown - Te Ora Auaha, a Creative Wellbeing Alliance of artists, researchers, policymakers and arts, education, health and community organisations reported on Tuesday that government minister Carmel Sepuloni has asked officials from the Ministry for Arts, Culture and Heritage and the Office for Disability Issues to work on developing an Arts and Wellbeing Strategy. Work is due to commence this year. More details when they come to hand.

Good Reading Online

Quietly they are one of the great married success stories of New Zealand theatre: producer Caroline Armstrong and playwright Dave Armstrong, with a string of hit productions and tours extending out over two decades. In this Dominion Post interview with them both there’s laughter, good advice and bad piano solos in-between . I love that she gets the first word in.

Signe Rose, Gösser Chandelier (2014) [detail]

New on Contemporary Hum, artist Signe Rose writes a touching letter to her husband sculptor Martyn Reynolds on their life in Vienna as parents and artists, having moved to Austria from New Zealand in 2010 and the effects of the distance between here and there on her.

And there’s also a beautiful letter home from writer Chloe Lane on The Spinoff Art, writing of living in Florida and Wellington artist Andrew Beck’s recent residency at the Robert Raschenberg Foundation.

Written by

Mark Amery

13 Feb 2020

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.

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