Art and the Urban Pacific: Urban Kainga

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Media Release: January, 2010. 

City Gallery Wellington announces Urban Kainga in the Deane Gallery

How do we define an urban community? How do people form and retain their cultural identity in a city environment where people from many places and cultural backgrounds have gathered? The exhibition Urban Kainga in the Deane Gallery at City Gallery Wellington, running 16 January to 28 March 2010, raises these questions.

For Māori the word kāinga means dwelling or village. In the Kingdom of Tonga kainga relates to extended family, and in Samoan the word is aiga. In Pacific communities the concept of kāinga extends beyond the idea of ‘neighbourhood’ or place, to include blood ties, sharing traditional customs, and cultural inheritance and legacy.

Urban Kainga features the art of four male artists who explore some of the challenges faced by Māori and Pacific communities trying to retain traditional cultural customs, on top of the realities of suburban life. Curator Reuben Friend says, “This is an exhibition with an unashamedly male viewpoint. In a time when Māori and Pacific Island men are over represented in reports relating to ill health and social strife, these four artists share their experiences of growing up in culturally rich but economically underprivileged communities. These artists were amongst the first generation to be raised within New Zealand’s post-war working class suburbs. Their art echoes the social conditions and cultural surroundings of this urban environment.”

Terry Koloamatangi Klavenes’ photography documents his kainga, his family and community. While his family migrated to New Zealand in search of the ‘Pacific Island dream’, Klavenes found that his sense of self and community were shaped by the uncertainties of relocation, and the ongoing anxieties of an identity formed in a low socio-economic urban area.

Artist Nick McFarlane grew up near Porirua in Wellington, a community where gang members had a strong presence during the 1980's. As a child of Pakeha descent growing up around these kinds of urban tribes, McFarlane observed that the gangs were a side-effect of greater social problems. His reworked gang patches describe some of the conditions in which gangs thrive.

The core motivation behind the art of Reweti Arapere (Ngāti Raukawa, Tuwharetoa) is the desire to inspire other rangatahi (youth) to pursue the teachings of their ancestors in a way which will empower them to become the rangatira (leaders) of tomorrow. He uses a combination of graffiti style stencils and customary Māori art forms to tell the tale of young urban Māori men who identify with both Māori and metropolitan culture.

Siliga David Setoga’s art looks at the impact of mass marketing and the media on his community and identity. His art reworks globally recognised brands, often revealing insidious messages concealed beneath the attractive packaging.

The Deane Gallery is one of City Gallery Wellington’s new exhibition spaces which is dedicated to exhibiting art which is focussed on issues of particular interest to Māori and Pacific audiences.

Urban Kainga: Reweti Arapere, Terry Koloamatangi Klavenes, Nick McFarlane, Siliga David Setoga

16 January – 28 March 2010