No apologies for ‘challenging’ exhibitions



Pictured with Robyn Kahukiwa's Mana Maori Motuhake, 2019 are, from left, Riki Kahukiwa, mokopuna of Robyn Kahukiwa, and artists Reweti Arapere and Erena Baker.

Mahara Gallery Director-curator Janet Bayly makes no apologies for the provocative potential of the Gallery’s current exhibitions, which address the impact of colonization on Aotearoa, New Zealand from different perspectives.

Let’s NOT Celebrate Captain Cook by Maori artist Robyn Kahukiwa in particular challenges the accepted interpretation of Captain Cook’s visits to New Zealand.

Amokura is included in the NZ Arts Festival and showcases work by Erena Baker and Reweti Arapere. It is concerned with the healthy continuance of Maori culture in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand but as Janet Bayly says, “in a less directly illustrative or overtly politicised way”.

It has been the Robyn Kahukiwa exhibition which has attracted most attention in the context of the recent Tuia 250 commemorations. In her artist’s statement, she said: “many Māori are distressed and angered by this celebration and memorialising of Captain James Cook. I am one of them”.

Robyn Kahukiwa has been painting, printmaking, illustrating and writing books concerned with Maori culture and identity, history and politics, for almost fifty years.

Australian born, she re-established her ties with her Maori cultural heritage when she returned to New Zealand aged 18. This journey of discovery was fundamental to her beginning as an artist alongside her roles as a mother and an art teacher.

A Waikanae resident has taken exception to Kahukiwa’s exhibition. In a message published on website Waikanae Watch, the resident labelled Kahukiwa’s exhibition as racist, derogatory, dishonest, divisive and ignorant.

Janet Bayly says that as the district gallery for Kāpiti, Mahara has a responsibility to show artists with sincerely-held viewpoints who are respected for their work, regardless of how controversial their viewpoint might be.

“Robyn Kahukiwa has a strong identity as a founding Maori woman artist from the 1970s and 1980s, known for her Wahine Toa strong women series which represented women in the Maori creation stories” she says. “She has also since depicted harrowing social, cultural and political dilemmas in her work.

“The widely accepted European view of Cook has largely celebrated and honoured him as a well-intentioned adventuring explorer rather than a brutal colonising agent of imperial Britain whose actions in the view of Robyn Kahukiwa, impacted on tangata whenua.


“It’s not for us as a Gallery to agree or disagree with these interpretations. It’s our responsibility to ensure that people in Kāpiti have the opportunity to view the art works and come to their own conclusions,” she says.


Janet Bayly says both exhibitions deal with the cultural heritage of Maori and passing on matauranga Maori (traditional and inter-generational cultural knowledge).


“They also emphasise the strong connections between people in Maori culture (whakapapa, through iwi and hapu) and land (Papatuanuku) to each new generation.”


She says Erena Baker and Reweti Arapere are part of the new generation of contemporary Maori artists who work across multi-media and in collaborative ways, echoing the earlier generation of Robyn Kahukiwa and her contemporary women artists. 


They reframe Aotearoa New Zealand in complex imagery which blends iconography from art forms such as tukutuku with western media such as photography and print-making. 

“They are also connected with a very active international movement of indigenous artists who share ideas and experiences across Canada, North America, Asia, Europe and the Pacific, and who often work collaboratively,” says Janet Bayly.

Both hold a Master of Māori Visual Arts from Toioho ki Apiti School of Māori Studies, Massey University and have exhibited both throughout Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally.