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March 4, 2019 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts | [ssba]

A Post Colonial Fantasy

Nothing usually gets between me and my Cozy Cake Kitchen chips, but last week, one incredible gallery window display stopped me in my tracks. Hariata Ropata Tangahoe’s A Post Colonial Fantasy exhibition at Bowen Gallery is so utterly gorgeous that I wish I could forget it, just so I can see it all over again. I’ve never been more delighted to be interrupted in my journey to a five dollar fried feed.


Seeing these paintings in the flesh is really something special. Much like the concept of whakapapa that she chooses to explore—there are layers upon fascinating layers to her work. Tangahoe’s paintings are composed of many bright and delicate levels of paint that add small details and decorations to compliment the final image. In 1885, Walt Whitman wrote in his monumental poem Song of Myself, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” Standing in front of Tangahoe’s paintings, these feelings were evoked. There is much to take in, so make sure to pack lunch before visiting this gallery. I honestly feel as though you could spend hours there.


And I couldn’t go without mentioning Tangahoe’s choice of frames. In the literately world, they instruct you to never judge a work by its frame, but these frames are integral to what they behold. Len Taylor has hand-carved each of Tangahoe’s frames to complement and emphasise the striking beauty of the paintings. These add, rather than distract, to the grandeur of the overall exhibition. Each painting suspends slightly above the ground. Enshrined in their expertly carved frames, surrounded by the piercing pāua shell eyes of the guardian Tiki that Taylor, they gaze down at the viewer below them.


Now, as Wellington’s most unexpected and heavily pierced Christian, this isn’t something I say lightly—but when I walked into this exhibition, it felt like walking into church. The spirituality is tangible—but not in an icky, cheap-peanut-butter-stuck-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth type of way; this is a Fix & Fogg feeling. The lighting is dimmed to help you better appreciate the vibrant yellow clothing details, pale pink flowers, and the bright blues of an ocean background—which drag you in with all the lures of a Rimbaud poem. Perhaps I’m biased due to my great love for Marc Chagall (an artist that Tangahoe was greatly influenced by) but there’s just something so wonderful about the worlds that are created in this small but powerful exhibition.


I love the use of the small, artificial glints of gold, silver, and pale turquoise that shine out from amongst the primarily natural colour palette. Tangahoe’s eclectic selection of symbols from multiple cultures, mythologies, and modernity is also something to watch out for—with these comes the tongue-in-cheek humour of A Post Colonial Fantasy and the reappropriation of artistic techniques and compositions found in classic portraiture. It’s just so refreshing to have a gallery focus on Māori art shown through the lens of a Māori woman. If you want to view the post-colonial portraiture of Māori people that Tangahoe is referencing, you can go to any Wellington gallery—Te Papa currently has a large collection of C. F. Goldie’s work on display. However, in no way does seeing those dusty old relics of colonisation match up to the feeling of viewing Hariata Ropata Tangahoe’s vibrant, passionate, and inspired collection.


A Post Colonial Fantasy introduces us a gorgeous array of fascinating and wonderful characters. He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.


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