The exhibition Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki should be momentous in many ways. With more than 300 works by 112 Māori artists, it will be the largest exhibition in the institution’s 132-year history. Developed at every step by Māori, it aims to revisit and reinvigorate the concerns of artists active in the past 70 years to bring greater visibility to Indigenous storytelling.
The bilingual title makes this immediate. “It’s a reassertion of the place of Māori culture—that the Indigenous voice of this country is one that is standing tall and standing strong,” says the museum’s Māori art curator Nigel Borell (who has iwi, or tribal, affiliations to Pirirākau, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Te Whakatōhea).
“It’s been nearly 20 years since we checked in, nationally, with the story of contemporary Māori art” NIGEL BORELL, EXHIBITION CURATOR
The last time Auckland Art Gallery—the largest art institution in New Zealand (or Aotearoa, the original Māori name)—mounted such a survey was in 2001. Borell recalls seeing it and experiencing the power of collective self-representation. After joining the museum in 2015, he began developing a follow-up. “It’s been nearly 20 years since we checked in, nationally, with the story of contemporary Māori art,” he says. “It’s been hotly anticipated.”
On view will be works by up-and-coming artists like Ayesha Green (Kai Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu), whose formally flattened paintings consider the legacies of portraiture, alongside established ones like Lisa Reihana (Nga Puhi), whose moving-image work asserts the potency of folklore.