Te Puke artist Bridget Reweti will be among 10 of New Zealand’s leading contemporary visual artists to have their work featured in the United Kingdom’s first major exhibition of Maori and Pacific culture this month.
Oceania will run at the Royal Academy of Arts in London from September 29-December 10, including around 200 works showcasing the art and culture of New Zealand, Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia.
Bridget (Ngati Ranginui, Ngai Te Rangi) is a member of the Mata Aho Collective – a collective of four Maori women artists who will present their work, ‘Kiko Moana’. Other members include Erena Baker, Sarah Hudson and Terri Te Tau.
Kiko Moana is made from iconic blue tarpaulin that is folded, stitched and slashed. The collective has employed accessible materials and researched customary Maori sewing techniques to portray the tradition of innovation.
The work is accompanied by online ‘Taniwha Tales’ – gifts from friends and whanau about their encounters, memories or insights around taniwha.
“We chose taniwha as they like to travel, are guardians and live in or around water,” says Bridget. “As Kiko Moana was our first work to travel overseas, we wanted to ground it in stories from home.”
Bridget grew up in Te Puke and went on to get a master’s degree in Maori visual arts from Massey University and a post graduate diploma in museum and heritage studies from Victoria University.
She has held numerous residencies both nationally and internationally and her work is held in both private and public collections.
Bridget’s work is largely lens-based, using both photographic and video equipment.
“It offers a way for me to employ lens-based techniques and tools, but also the concepts it encompasses, like perspective, position or focus,” she says. “An important aspect of image making is asking who is behind the lens and what power do they have?”
Bridget lives and works in Wellington, but is very proud of her Tauranga Moana whakapapa.
“Living in Wellington now means I can focus on developing not only my own art practice, but writing and curating other Maori artists into exhibitions,” she explains.
“I've always been interested in ideas, in being able to research and explore possibilities beyond our current situations, and art is an avenue that provides that. I am inspired by the strong women whom have been ever-present in my life.”
Bridget enjoys bringing her work home, however, and her exhibition at Tauranga Art Gallery last year, Irihanga, was particularly special as she was able to work with her nan, Geraldine Hinemoa Reweti, to record the narrative.
“This exhibition highlighted the settlements that were destroyed during the 1867 Tauranga Bush Campaign,” says Bridget. “I was fortunate to visit some of these sites, which are now either farmland or forestry.
“It was difficult to reconcile such a violent history with so much loss. I was grateful to be able to contribute a small part towards honouring the narratives of that time that still affect us today.”
The work that Bridget does with the Mata Aho Collective is quite different to her individual practice. The four women met studying at Massey University and bonded over similar interests and a need to support each other in art endeavours.
“I really enjoy being able to work collectively,” she says, “to share ideas and develop work not in isolation. In saying that, I relish the freedom of my individual practice, which involves spending time in the mountains.”
Kiko Moana was originally presented at documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany in 2017 alongside the work of Ralph Hotere and Nathan Pohio.
“We were the first group of New Zealand artists to ever exhibit at documenta 14. So although we were treading new territory, we knew that many people before us has forged new paths and as nervous as we were, we also felt secure in our work and support networks,” says Bridget.
“I feel proud and humbled to be part of the Maori artists who are making change locally, nationally and internationally.
Bridget says the collective is “overwhelmed” to be chosen to exhibit at Oceania.
“I'm not sure I'll know exactly how I'll feel when we arrive though. I am acutely aware that there will be many taonga from all over the Pacific that haven't seen home for a long time. This might be a bit heartbreaking.
“I'm glad I'll be viewing these taonga with my three friends though. We can share that load.”
A Taniwha Tale from Kiko Moana
KH · 41
Ngati Awa · Ngai Tuhoe
“I don't know loads about Taniwha except what we were told as kids. They were protectors of the area they were in and if you disrespected that area, the Taniwha would get you! Half the time I think it was to put the fear of god in us so that we wouldn't go there and misbehave lol but then there are more than likely to be more reasons behind the stories than I was ever told. I know we were told about a Taniwha that was in a river when I was younger so that scared the crap out of me and I never wanted to swim there. I guess that might have been Ben's way of making sure I didn't swim there and drown who knows, but it worked. I often thought of them as big dragons for some reason, I'm sure each kid had their own vision of what a Taniwha looked like. Sadly, I never saw my dragon or maybe you only saw them if you were naughty.”
To read more Taniwha Tales go to: www.kikomoana.com