An exhibition of the indigenous literature of New Zealand will take place this November in London. It will break with the Eurocentric vision of Maori culture, showing it does not fit into one single box.
The Maori culture is unique not only because of its language, Te Reo, but also because of its many shades that emerged through the interaction with the European descendants, the Pakeha. While traditional New Zealand art included carving, weaving, the kappa haka group performance, whaikorero oratory and the ta moko tattoo art, today the Maori art also involves film, poetry and theatre.
Because of the importance of these practices, this November five of New Zealand’s leading Māori and Pasifika writers will showcase their work in the UK alongside the high profile Oceania exhibition at the Royal Academy.
The organizers of the event explain that “their programme will include a public panel discussion with Senior Curator, Adrian Locke, at the Royal Academy, a Commonwealth Writers Conversation in front of an invited audience at the Commonwealth Foundation and a literary salon with much-loved salonnière, writer and journalist Damian Barr”.
This is particularly important, as “Oceania opened to five-star reviews at the Royal Academy of Arts in September and features around 200 works of art from New Zealand, Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia, in the UK’s first major exhibition of the diverse art of the region”.
The press office also points out that “Māori writers Witi Ihimaera, Paula Morris and Tina Makereti are joined by Pasifika (Pacific Islands) poets Karlo Mila and David Eggleton in a panel discussion at the Royal Academy, where each of the writers will choose an artwork as a starting point to explore the exhibition’s themes and will also talk about the role of Indigenous writers and literature”.
Some of the questions that will be approached are: “how do literary artists from the pacific region re-design a colonial map that has shaped much more than their geography? How do writers evoke places that have been renamed and viewed from a central point that isn’t theirs?”
“Witi Ihimaera – according to the organisers – is one of New Zealand’s greatest modern writers; in 1974 he became the first Maori author to publish a novel, and four books including ‘Whale Rider’ which have been made into feature films. Moreover, according to the coordinators of the event:“he was recently awarded both the New Zealand Prime Minister’s Award for fiction and the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government”.
David Eggleton is a “multi awarding-winning poet, writer, and critic, and author of histories of New Zealand’s photography and its 20th Century art”. Also, Tina Makereti’s latest novel “The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke” tells the story of a young Māori man “who becomes a ‘living exhibit’ at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, in 1846. Karlo Mila is a Pasifika poet of Tongan, Samoan and Palangi heritage, who has performed her work in London; Paula Morris’ most recent book is ‘False River’ (2017), a collection of stories and essays around the subject of secret histories”.
New Zealand (through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade), Papua New Guinea and the Kingdom of Tonga are partnering with the Royal Academy to present the Oceania exhibition in London. The themes presented in the exhibition will include voyaging, place-making and encounters relating to the past, present, and future of the Pacific.
The event with David Eggleton, Witi Ihimaera, Tina Makereti, Karlo Mila and Paula Morris, will take place on Wednesday 7 of November, from 6:30 pm. to 9 pm. at Damian Barr’s Literary Salon: Oceania. Penthouse, New Zealand House, 80 Haymarket, St James’s London SW1Y 4TE. And “Writing Oceania: contemporary literature in the South Pacific” will take place on Friday, 9 of November from 6:30 to 8 pm. at The Royal Academy, Burlington House, The Reynolds Room. The event is sponsored by Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa.