Hawke’s Bay Today: Alternative Account of History

Last October Parlour Projects in Hastings presented Omarunui by Jono Rotman. That exhibition was of mainly historic photographs and focused on the main protagonists involved in the Battle of Omarunui near Napier.

In Properties of Peace and Evil, Brett Graham responds to Jono Rotman’s show. Graham looks to historical correspondence and artefacts to provide an alternative account of the events that shaped the Battle of Omarunui in Hawke’s Bay on October 12, 1866.

On that day, 200 militiamen and a similar number from local hapu surrounded a party of approximately 100 Pai Marire (Hauhau) followers, comprised mainly of Ngati Hineuru. After an invitation to surrender was rebuffed, the occupied kainga was besieged. Many Ngati Hineuru were killed with the balance taken prisoner and exiled to the Chatham Islands, along with whanau who were taken prisoner at Herepoho. Those events and the subsequent outcomes remain contentious, and many conflicting perspectives exist.

In his practice Brett Graham abstracts complex historical and cultural ideas into strong and compelling sculptural forms. Graham places emphasis on materiality and surface with the formal simplicity of his sculptural pieces and predominant use of wood and stone.

The two five-metre tall wood panelled structures that occupy the main gallery floor are reminiscent of ‘niu’ poles that were the totem of the Pai Marire faith. The site-specific works call to mind the stone obelisks that were erected at Petane and Omarunui in 1916 by the veterans of the One Day War and subsequently knocked over in the 1990s in an act of protest.

On the main viewing wall, four works on paper represent Archangels Michael Riki (Ariki) and Gabriel Rura (Ruler) as punisher and pacifier. Riki and Rura were often carved on the ‘niu’ cross arms or represented by flags as the deities of peace and war, they are printed in limited editions of three.

In his floor talk on Saturday, Graham spoke of the interpretations and how his questions about the old history were initiated by inconsistencies in the storytelling. His wooden ‘niu’ structures are symbolically painted in whitewash.

Brett Graham is a highly regarded New Zealand artist of Ngati Koroki iwi tribal Maori descent. He graduated from Elam School of Fine Arts in 1988 and subsequently completed an MFA at the University of Hawaii in 1991. He holds a Doctorate in Fine Arts from the University of Auckland. His work is held in prominent public and private collections.

Brett Graham, Properties of Peace and Evil, is on view at Parlour Projects through July 29. For the full article please click here.

Hawke’s Bay Today: Alternative Account of History