Kelcy Taratoa - Back to Mine: Urban Realities

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Media Release: June, 2006. 

Exciting Young Artist on Show at City Gallery

Following Kelcy Taratoa’s acclaimed exhibitions Who Am I? episodes at Lower Hutt’s Dowse Art Museum and Palmerston North’s Te Manawa last year, City Gallery Wellington is proudly exhibiting Back to Mine: Urban Realities from June 18.

Hailed as one of New Zealand’s most exciting young artists, Taratoa’s paintings investigate the forces that shape personal and cultural identity in contemporary New Zealand. The artist is present in every work looking out from the canvas, engaging and provoking the viewer.

Like Who Am I? , Back to Mine: Urban Realities is grounded in Taratoa’s experience. Taratoa describes Who Am I? as “Extremely empowering; I knew how history had been created and written; how my social-situation was a by-product of a system that had dominated, controlled and ultimately chewed up and spat out people of ethnic difference; a system that had judged and marginalised Maori. In spite of this, I no longer felt disconnected or isolated – I was now grounded and located, self-aware and educated. No longer was a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed.”

Back to Mine further develops themes from Who Am I? Still concerned primarily with identity the paintings are hard-edged and more assertive. Whereas in the earlier work, we saw a child figure looking back through the past, in these paintings a confident, urban Maori man strides forward: “I am now secure in who I am and what I identify with.”

In exploring the links between history, social situation and identity formation, Taratoa describes a journey of self-creation and a deconstructing of the mind, reconstructing himself and his experience. There are no explicitly Maori images in the paintings apart from Taratoa; that absence makes a statement that speaks to many urban Maori raised away from their iwi, language and culture.

In work produced specially for City Gallery Wellington, we see the artist standing in an urban environment dotted with references to the New Zealand urban landscape immediately familiar to all New Zealanders— a 4 Square, McDonalds, street signs, state houses, supermarkets. Entering this world are superheroes of comics, film and TV – Spiderman, Batman, the Hulk and the Silver Surfer. The paintings, with their rich collision of iconic images, construct a complex topography which charts the impact of colonisation and globalisation on local cultures.

Taratoa says that comics and these superheroes were an important part of the culture and period in which he grew up. “The characters depicted confront internal identity struggles—internal identity struggles confront indigenous people.” They also reflect on the condition of modern society and make a statement about the global prevalence of American popular culture.

Back to Mine: Urban Realities forms part of 2 x 2 Contemporary Projects, a series of two exhibitions, each showcasing two contemporary artists’ solo exhibitions – photographer Edith Amituanai and Taratoa in the first and multi-media artist Lonnie Hutchinson and Trust Waikato National Contemporary Art Award Sriwhana Spong in the second. Fresh and innovative, these artworks and artists are at the forefront of contemporary practices.

City Gallery Wellington presents Taratoa’s paintings in an installation: The gallery floor will have white vinyl road markings; and the paintings, combined with video and music on a large plasma screen, will create an environment rich in imagery and ideas, for the viewer to experience and navigate.

Kelcy Taratoa (Ngaiterangi and Ngati Raukawa) graduated with a Masters degree in Maori Visual Arts from Massey University in 2005. He lives in Palmerston North where he paints and lectures at UCOL.

Kelcy Taratoa

Back to Mine: Urban Realities

2 x 2 Contemporary Projects 

City Gallery Wellington, 18 June– 30 July 2006