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Te Papa’s Hia Hia Whenua – Landscape and Desire

William Hodges, [Waterfall in Dusky Bay with Maori canoe], 1776, oil on panel. Purchased 2019 with assistance from Lottery Grants Board, Tuia Encounters — 250 Fund. Te Papa (2019-0003-1). Source: Te Papa.

Rebecca Fox, Unsettled landscapes, Otago Daily Times, 22 December 2022

New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa’s exhibition “Hia Hia Whenua – Landscape and Desire” features some rarely seen works with close links to Otago and Southland.

Curators Rebecca Rice and Megan Tamati-Quennell talk to Rebecca Fox about the tension between historical and contemporary works. 

Selected works of significant artists such as Shona Rapira-Davies, William Hodges, Shane Cotton, Tony De Lautour and others being exhibited at Te Papa all have one thing in common – a southern connection.

Their works are part of 24 being exhibited as “Hia Hia Whenua – Landscape and Desire” which showcases rarely seen colonial landscapes alongside contemporary works addressing issues around and from colonialism.

Te Papa curator of historical art Rebecca Rice has wanted to show some of the collection’s historical landscapes for some time but was unsure of how they could be presented in the 21st century.

“I was very conscious that visitors like to see them but it needed to be thought through very carefully.”

Together with Megan Tamati-Quennell, curator of modern and contemporary Maori and indigenous art, they decided to show the historical landscapes alongside contemporary works.

“There is little bit of a tension in that the historical works are saying one thing and the contemporary, kind of, either echoing that, or referencing it, in a different way, or shifting what is being said. It’s a nice dynamic.”

Rice, who is from Dunedin, says it is that tension between landscape and whenua, the very different ways of thinking of the natural world, that is at the crux of the exhibition.

It was a deliberate move to exclude “modern” works from the exhibition.

“It is not about McCahon discovering the New Zealand landscape and finding the essence of it. Contemporary artists we engage with are looking back to the historical landscape and thinking about the way that land was encountered and that people tried to settle it, fought over it, use it, make a commercial gain through farming or forestry.”

Tamati-Quennell says the contemporary works complicate the image of New Zealand’s colonial landscapes.

“There are many ways to think about land – its value, its ownership, and how it can be lost, sold or stolen.

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