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Media Release 1

Wellington’s City Gallery is staging an exhibition that explores Parihaka’s significance.

The Parihaka exhibition is a collaborative project of City Gallery Wellington, and the people of Parihaka Pā, Taranaki. Opening on 26 August, the show will explore and illuminate the cultural realities of both Māori and Pākehā and bring to public attention one of the darkest moments in New Zealand’s history: the invasion of Parihaka Pā by colonial forces on 5 November 1881.

The exhibition will gather together some of the greatest works of art produced in this country in the last few decades, works which will help viewers experience and begin to understand the legacy of Te Whiti, Tohu, and the Parihaka Pā.

The paintings in the exhibition include artworks newly commissioned from fifteen leading artists of Aotearoa which explore the legacy of Parihaka. These works will become the property of the people of Parihaka Pā after the show. Also on show will be works executed in previous years.

Probably the most famous artwork associated with Parihaka is Colin McCahon’s Parihaka Triptych (1973). McCahon also painted other works relating to Te Whiti, Tohu, and the Parihaka settlement. Nine of these rarely seen works are in the show.

Other noted artists whose works relating to Parihaka, Te Whiti, and Tohu will be on show include Ralph Hotere, Gordon Walters, Michael Smither, Tony Fomison, and Barry Brickell. An important series of photographs taken at Parihaka by Marti Friedlander in 1969 will be featured alongside more recent images of the Pā.

As well as the recent artworks exploring the legacy of Parihaka, the show will feature a rich array of historical photographs, paintings, and artefacts. Approximately sixty photographs of the pā, dating from the 1870s to the mid-twentieth century, will be included. Prints of two photographic portraits of Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, held under embargo in the Taranaki Museum, will be displayed in public for the first time. Watercolours of the Pā by artists who visited Parihaka in the 1880s and 1890s will be included, alongside artefacts including an original plough, ornaments, and flags. The exhibition will take up the entire City Gallery. The installation will include teachings of Te Whiti and Tohu printed on the walls.

To coincide with the Parihaka exhibition a large-format book will be co-published by the Parihaka Trustees, City Gallery, and Victoria University Press. The book explores the art historical legacy of Parihaka and includes major essays on Parihaka history, spirituality, and other matters. Some of New Zealand’s leading poets have been commissioned to write new works relating to, or inspired by, Parihaka.

The publication begins with a 10,000-word history of Parihaka, written by historian Hazel Riseborough in collaboration with the people of Parihaka Pā. Te Miringa Hohaia has translated and commented on the sayings and teachings of Te Whiti and Tohu. Other essays will explore further aspects of the history of Parihaka and of its place in the works of art. The catalogue will include colour reproductions of the major works in the exhibition.

Media Release 2

Parihaka is a groundbreaking exhibition exploring the artistic legacy inspired by the story of Parihaka Pā and its two remarkable leaders—Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi. It presents some of the greatest artworks produced in this country in the last few decades, alongside contemporary works and a wealth of historical material, some of which has never been seen in public before.

‘Parihaka is one of Wellington City’s major contributions for the Millennium year’, says Paula Savage, Gallery director. On display will be works by artists such as Colin McCahon, Ralph Hotere, Tony Fomison, and Gordon Walters, who were inspired by the events and personalities of Parihaka. A $75,000 Lottery General Millennium Grant has also enabled the Gallery to commission major new works of art by fifteen of Aotearoa New Zealand’s artists. After Parihaka, these artworks will be gifted by the artists back to Parihaka.

‘This exhibition will offer people an experience of some of the most searching artworks produced in this country,’ says Ms Savage. ‘It will alert people to past and present realities at a time when we are all taking stock of our past and looking to the future.’

Begun in 1994, the ambitious Parihaka project is a partnership between Parihaka Pā Trustees, and City Gallery Wellington. The Gallery has worked closely with Parihaka Pā representatives Labour Southern Māori MP Mahara Okeroa and Te Miringa Hohaia in the realisation of the project.

Parihaka spokesman Te Miringa Hohaia says ‘Parihaka the exhibition is the voice of the people of the Parihaka Pā in collusion with artists, writers, and poets, and City Gallery Wellington. It brings to the fore the legacy of the Parihaka War for Peace in the lives of Te Whiti o Rongomai, Tohu Kākahi, and their people. It shows their place in the Māori vision for independence and self determination, tying in our generation’s hopes dreams and actions in the year 2000.’

Te Miringa Hohaia comments ‘The exhibition is a voice joining that of the Parihaka leaders and its people. As such it gives new body to the words from Tohu Kākahi to his people when he said: “Your voices will never be suppressed nor silenced by the great powers or influences of this land. Nor by the great powers or influences of the world will your voices be terminated”.’

‘Parihaka the exhibition is a result of incorruptible leadership in terms of Te Whiti and Tohu, inspiring artists and writers to speak for themselves now. It is also a powerful indication from the people of Parihaka Pa that their voice will cry out until the War of Tohu and Te Whiti be brought to a foundation of peace so that we can live side by side on the land’, says Te Miringa Hohaia.

The story of Parihaka and its two leaders, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, is highly significant in this country’s history. In their efforts to maintain the land and rights of Taranaki iwi, Te Whiti, and Tohu led a campaign of passive resistance against the colonial forces from the 1860s onwards. The teachings of Te Whiti—symbolised by the raukura, or white feather of peace—have inspired artists and writers, political activists, social advocates, religious thinkers, philosophers, and clergy in New Zealand and abroad. The teachings of Parihaka were noted, for example, by Mahatma Gandhi. The passive resistance actions led by Te Whiti and Tohu at Parihaka were 55 years before Gandhi’s passive resistance campaign in India.

An extensive programme of artist and writers’ talks, lectures, poetry readings, musical performances, and tours (in both Te Reo Māori and English) has been developed. These events will explore the continuing significance of Parihaka for New Zealanders from all walks of life. Accompanying the exhibition is a collection of historical photographs, drawings, documents, and artefacts. Two photographic portraits of Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, printed from the original glass negatives with the permission of the people of Parihaka, will be displayed in public for the first time.

‘Parihaka continues to inspire new generations of artists and writers’, says Ms Savage. ‘The artworks in Parihaka will be poignant reflections of—and meditations on—the significance of Parihaka in New Zealand’s history and culture. It will examine Māori and Pākehā cultural relationships on many levels: spiritual, political, and personal.’

Mark Amery, ‘1881 and All That’, Listener, 26 August 2000.

Exhibition seems a terribly small word when it comes to describing Parihaka. A collaboration between Wellington’s City Gallery and the people of Parihaka, art for art’s sake it certainly is not. In fact, it’s hard to think of a more charged meeting between art, history and politics in a gallery in this country.

City Gallery director Paula Savage: ‘I feel this enormous responsibility with this project. I had a lot of people telling me not to touch it, that because of the politics I shouldn’t do the exhibition. I do think people are scared of it.’

Parihaka spokesman Te Miringa Hohaia: ‘It’s the first time that the Parihaka people have ever given their consent as a community to participate so publicly in such a thing as an exhibition, film, or book, or anything like that. We feel that up until now Māori people have tended to try to protect what they regard to be sacred knowledge, but really it’s now time to move out of that mode. We’ve succeeded in protecting the so-called integrity; what we need now to protect it is to open up and release some of it.’

The story of the Taranaki village of Parihaka and its two visionary leaders, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, whose campaign of passive resistance culminated in 1881 in the invasion and destruction of Parihaka by 1500 militia, has been like a lightning rod for cultural and political energy in this country (it was, according to the Waitangi Tribunal, the ‘most heinous action of any government, in any country, in the last century’). And with grievances between the Crown and Taranaki Māori yet to be resolved, an ending to the story is still to be written. As Savage said recently in the Dominion, ‘the weighty legacy of unfinished business will confront New Zealanders when Parihaka opens’.

The exhibition brings together for the first time the wealth of artwork inspired by Parihaka. The whole spirit of the project, however, has seen the gallery work hard to ensure that this is not a Pākehā-driven institution ‘doing the Parihaka story’. A unique working relationship has developed, with decision making going through both groups. It even took the involvement of Parihaka Pa to persuade several owners of works by Gordon Walters and Colin McCahon to break their vow that they would never loan them.

‘For the City Gallery it’s been a really groundbreaking way of working’, says Savage. ‘It’s not an easy way, in that it takes a lot of time and everything has to be approved by both of us. We’re used to defining a concept and a project and moving really quickly, and you can’t do that because everything is debated. But I think the project’s much richer for that. We’ve learnt from each other.’

Savage is quite open about the misgivings she once had about the project and whether it was appropriate for a gallery in Wellington to undertake. In 1994, intending to push forward with the exhibition, she attended a national artists hui at Parihaka. There, during what she describes as an ominous storm blowing outside, she listened to Hohaia speak for several hours on Parihaka’s history.

‘People were spellbound, you could have heard a pin drop. The thing that affected me was that all these people were crying. You could feel the pain and the grief in that room, it was something tangible, and it gave me quite a shock. It was then I realised that this is a living history. I had been looking at an artistic legacy. I think I changed in the whole way I view history at that point. I actually realised, to deal with this, it wasn’t just an exhibition, it was much more. It’s about people’s history, their whakapapa, it’s about their past, present and their future.’

Daunted, she put the project aside. Then Hohaia came to see her in 1998 on other business and raised the matter again; and the gallery and Parihaka Pā decided to work together.

As a result, the sizeable public gallery will be filled with such works as McCahon’s Parihaka Triptych, Ralph Hotere’s Te Whiti series, Walters’s Te Whiti and Tohu (never exhibited together before), nine works by Tony Fomison, and Marti Friedlander’s series of photographs taken at Parihaka in 1969 (‘They’re so emotional,’ says Hohaia. ‘It was when Parihaka was at its worst.’)

Then there are works specifically commissioned from fifteen contemporary artists, Māori and Pākehā. They range from the established names you might expect, such as Hotere, Darcy Nicholas, and Laurence Aberhart, to younger artists who have shown an affinity for the theme, such as John Walsh and Michael Shepherd.

‘We weren’t trying to put everything into some kind of non-high-art scenario,’ says City Gallery curator Gregory O’Brien. ‘The project does jump across all the bases, but I think the project’s broad enough that it will also be uncovering fresh ground for people who know the art world. I don’t think, for example, that all the Parihaka related McCahon works have ever been put together before.’

Art on the walls is only one facet of the exhibition. Historical material on display includes photographic portraits of Te Whiti and Tohu (held in the Taranaki Museum under embargo till now), plus texts of their speeches and waiata, all being shown publicly for the first time. An accompanying publication features work commissioned from eleven leading poets, existing poems relating to Parihaka, and essays on matters artistic, literary, spiritual, and historical; and a CD will be feature everything from Tim Finn’s Parihaka to a work written by David Hamilton for the NZSO.

Then there’s the large public programme, featuring among other things sessions with Parihaka kuia, poi group Te Pua Pua, and a rehearsed reading of Harry Dansey’s play Te Raukawa.

With many Māori land grievances still unsettled, Hohaia doesn’t pretend that the politics can be left at home: he hopes that the exhibition will promote further discussion of both the land settlement process and the ‘Māori vision for independence’. But he is also driven by the desire to spread the positive messages that Parihaka stands for.

‘This is not about the people of Parihaka having an opportunity to promote their so-called grievance as such. There are not going to be any passionate speeches about what the government needs to do. Yes, these works impact on us politically and on our historical conscience, but I think Parihaka always presented a very positive forum because of its foundation of peace. Peace was the absolute key value that was held high as a sacred thing.’

Savage agrees. ‘Ultimately’, she says, ‘the Parihaka story is about the human imagination and the human spirit, and I think that’s why it appeals to artists. It’s beyond the story about what happened, it’s about what people are capable of in the face of such terrible injustice and violence. Te Whiti and Tohu’s response and their leadership says a lot about what the human spirit is capable of. I think that is an example for everyone in New Zealand and for everyone in the world.’

After the exhibition closes in November, the commissioned work will be gifted to the Parihaka community, where it is hoped that Te Whiti’s house, Te Raukura (which burnt down in 1960), will be rebuilt to house it. Hohaia says they are looking at providing a public facility, neutral of Māori protocols, to accommodate the already large number of people drawn to visit the Pā. It would be a centre for peace and hopefully provide training in the promotion and curation of contemporary art and artefacts, already being initiated for a group of Parihaka young people as part of the Parihaka exhibition.

‘Parihaka should be seen as an institute where peace is promoted and where people concerned about peace worldwide know there are facilities and information to debate and talk about it’, says Hohaia. ‘Parihaka can provide a strong foundation for dialogue between people of different cultures in terms of that whole forum for world peace. Parihaka is the ideal centre in this country to be part of that. We think it has a significant place.’

Kellyana Morey, ‘An Ornament for the Pākehā’, Listener, 3 March 2001.

When Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance opened at Wellington’s City Gallery last August there was, I think, an expectation that the exhibition and the accompanying book would signal new understandings of Māori, their culture and their stories. However, as the exhibition indicated, the publication under the thoughtful editorship of Te Miringa Hohaia, Gregory O’Brien, and Lara Strongman was always going to be an example of studious biculturalism. Allowing Māori to tell half of their own stories is not a gigantic leap forward—it’s debatable whether it’s even a start. If writing and art by Pākehā are needed to validate this and other episodes in the recent history of Aotearoa, there is a sense of the Māori voice still being cast as inauthentic or unreliable.

(The quality of writing by Māori in this book refutes that. Jonathan Mané-Wheoki and Ruakere Hond are particularly articulate, showing that Māori are more than capable of intellectualising a discourse.)

However, Parihaka still benefits the descendants of Parihaka surprisingly well, simply because it gets knowledge into the public arena, hopefully engendering a better understanding of what Māori are saying about self-determination, land and identity. There is no doubt that the Parihaka identification is wholly Māori. In Parihaka: The Living Legacy (a series of interviews with kaumātua and kuia), which makes Paul Morris’s The Provocation of Parihaka: Reflections on Spiritual Resistance in Aotearoa somewhat limited.

Morris sees some of the Māori prophetic movements as major spiritual conversions to Pākehā faith; but there is a strong case for saying that they used Christianity as part of a multi-pronged defence of their land. Certainly Bronwyn Elsmore (Mana from Heaven, 1989) and Jean Rosenfeld (The Island Broken in Two Halves, 1999) support the belief that the appropriation of Western spiritual models by the Māori prophets was for the purpose of enriching the Māori experience, not negating or replacing it. I also found the repeated use of ‘we’ in Morris’s conclusion incongruous: there is no ‘we’ in a determinist discourse such as Parihaka. That is surely, the point.

O’Brien and Paul Millar in Ploughing: Ralph Hotere’s Te Whiti Series and The Rent Due for a Skull: James K. Baxter and the Legacy of Parihaka respectively find resonances of historic Parihaka tangled with Hotere and Baxter’s confusion and horror at the outrages of humankind. The voice of the artist and the poet are profoundly localised, highly personal and yet completely universals as the writers make clear with considerable empathy. I enjoyed these essays for their delicate layering of ideas and images, both close-up and from afar—a quality also found in Robert Sullivan’s Poems from Another Century, for Parihaka.

Many of the writers outside the art history discipline are reluctant to draw the artworks into their own sphere of knowledge, which makes it easy to forget that this is an exhibition catalogue. Little of the art, Māori or Pākehā, is discussed outside the main acts, although McCahon, Fomison, Hotere, and Walters (whose inclusion in Parihaka is contentious in any case) are chewed over at length. Deidre Brown’s Parihaka in Art:  Beyond a Place, a Tune, a People is left with the unenviable task of drawing the many other artists into creative, cultural, and historical contexts.

In conclusion, Mané-Wheoki’s statement regarding the ability of McCahon’s Parihaka Triptych to ‘speak volumes both to and for Pākehā’ encapsulates the well-intentioned but somewhat uninspiring example of biculturalism that was set by the exhibition and is reiterated by this book—although this half-half stance didn’t translate into the choice of artworks for the dust jacket, perhaps the most obvious place to advance an editorial stance. Much like the exhibition, the detail is magnificent, but overall the text lacks a big picture. Parihaka is a handsome book with outstanding production values, an eclectic selection of occasionally absorbing writing and some passionate and compelling new poetry that ultimately, like the exhibition, ploughs remarkably little new ground.

Peter Simpson, ‘Parihaka: A Very Real Symbol’Art New Zealand, no. 97, Summer 2000–1. [Reproduced with the permission of Art New Zealand and the author.]

Among the large crowd—including hundreds down from Taranaki for the occasion—at the opening of Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance at the City Gallery in Wellington on a wild, wet day in August, I was pleased to run into the writer Dick Scott. More than any other individual, Scott must be credited with raising the level of consciousness—at least among Pākehā—about Te Whiti, Tohu, and Parihaka. I know I’m not alone in having had my head turned around about New Zealand history by reading Ask that Mountain: The Story of Parihaka (Reed/Southern Cross Books, 1975), Scott’s splendid piece of partisan historical scholarship. Indeed many of the artists who contributed to this impressive and exhaustive exhibition—including Tony Fomison, Nigel Brown, Barry Brickell, and John Pule, to name just a few—have acknowledged the impact of the book.

Ask that Mountain has gone through eight editions (totalling over 30,000 copies), a testament to its ongoing potency. It was in fact Scott’s second book on the subject; the first, The Parihaka Story (Southern Cross Books, 1954), was, he told me, the first New Zealand book ever translated into Russian, and, sure enough, in one of the cabinets devoted to the literary responses to Parihaka—this exhibition is nothing if not thorough—was a copy of the Russian text, Rasskaz o sobytiiahh v Parihake (Moskow, 1957), evidence perhaps that the events at Parihaka were of world-historical significance.

When I first read Ask that Mountain in the late 1970s, soon after returning from almost a decade abroad, what struck me most—reinforced when I read it again this year—was the courage, dignity and discipline of Te Whiti and his followers, and the naked aggression and blatant constitutional chicanery of the settlers, backed by all the power of the fledgling state.

Back then I was struck, too, by the striking parallels between John Bryce and Robert Muldoon. Bryce—a cavalry officer in the war against Tītokowaru in the Whanganui—rose to become Native Minister on three separate occasions and he personally carried out the arrest of Te Whiti and Tohu on Te Reo tō Pāhua—The Day of Plunder—5 November 1881, notoriously riding his white horse at the head of 1600 Armed Constabulary and colonial volunteers into the village of Parihaka, occupied by some 2000 (mostly) women and children, all but a few of the males being already in jail. In the days and weeks following, Bryce supervised the destruction of the village and the dispersal of most of its inhabitants. Muldoon’s actions at Bastion Point, almost a century later—though lacking the flamboyant direct involvement of Bryce at Parihaka—bore a distinct family resemblance to Bryce’s. Both men were pugnacious, bellicose, bigoted, dictatorial, uncompromising, narrow-minded, and self-righteous—a personification of the nation’s worst self, maybe. It made me realise that a challenge by Māori—however peaceful and legitimate—to the authority of the state would be put down just as forcibly in 1978 as it had been in 1881. When push came to shove, Pākehā leaders were avid to use overwhelming force to impose their will on passively resistant Māori. Parihaka and Bastion Point exposed incontrovertibly the iron fist behind the anodyne myth of ‘the best race relations in the world’. The scales fell from my eyes, as they say.

Perhaps it is the double dimension of the Parihaka story—its positive and negative connotations are equally compelling—that has made it so magnetic to artists and writers, both Māori and Pākehā. The sheer volume of material brought together by Paula Savage and Gregory O’Brien of the City Gallery in partnership with the Parihaka Pā Trustees for this exhibition is staggering. It is hard to think of any other event in New Zealand history to which such strong and varied visual and literary testimony has attached itself.

The event in the country’s visual culture most closely parallel to the literary consciousness raising of Ask that Mountain was Taranaki Saw it All: The Story of Te Whiti O Rongomai of Parihaka, the exhibition conceived and curated by James Mack for the Waikato Art Museum in 1973. Colin McCahon’s Parihaka Triptych (1972) and Ralph Hotere’s Te Whiti series—a suite of small works on paper—were specifically commissioned for that show. Appropriately, two galleries in the present exhibition are largely devoted to these and associated works by McCahon and Hotere, establishing a strong link to that ground-breaking exhibition of quarter of a century ago. A further impetus to the rich visual tradition accumulating around the Te Whiti story was the Parihaka Centennial exhibition of 1981. Among the works created for it were Tony Fomison’s Te Whiti O Rongomai ae he Tohu Pai, John Hovell’s And still these trampling feet came on, Barry Brickell’s Kūaha/Doorway, Stanley Palmer’s Parihaka flag and Nigel Brown’s Village of Peace—all reassembled for the present exhibition. An impressive feature of this exhibition is the way in which it has built on and surpassed these previous initiatives. One is made conscious of a rich tradition in the process of cumulatively perpetuating itself.

I’m not sure how many hundreds (or is it thousands?) of individual items are included in Parihaka, but obviously any written account based on a necessarily cursory viewing—by an overnight visitor to Wellington—can refer only in passing to more than a handful of them. My remarks are inevitably partial, impressionistic and personal. I also confine myself to the visual objects displayed, not having had the opportunity of experiencing the substantial public programme of readings, performances, lectures and demonstrations that has accompanied the exhibition and is still continuing as I write.

The primacy of photography—both historical and contemporary—in the visual record of Parihaka is an abiding impression of the exhibition. Among the most potent images of all are the rare photographs of Te Whiti and Tohu themselves (rare because of their suspicion of the camera), and the scenes of Parihaka recorded by contemporaries, both on the ‘day of plunder’ itself—baldly documenting the sheer size of the invading forces—and in the years that followed, such as the melancholy images taken by Alfred Burton in 1886 of the village largely denuded of its male inhabitants. Historical photographs have themselves provided a starting point for many later artists, as in the case of Michael Shepherd’s work, Negative, based on, and expertly replicating the appearance of, a glass negative taken during the invasion of 1881. Shepherd has sardonically replaced the flag taken down by colonial forces with the typewritten words ‘their flag’. Anne Noble’s lamda colour photographic prints, two of them entitled Parihaka … Seen but Not Heard, were likewise developed from details in an undated photograph of Children at the Parihaka Pā, itself included in the exhibition, by William Andrews Collis (1853–1920). Her re-visioning of elements of this image represents an outsider’s attempt to come to terms with the Parihaka legacy. Ralph Hotere’s Comet over Mount Egmont, Séraphine Pick’s Riki and Ruru (2000) and Nigel Brown’s Village of Peace (1981) are other works that have their origins in the photographic record. One of the fascinations of viewing Parihaka is recognising these ‘intertextual’ connections between various works.

Another important category of photographs is those taken by contemporary photographers who visited Parihaka on various occasions in recent decades including, for example, Marti Friedlander’s potent photomural recording a 1969 visit, in which she depicts the village as a mournful ghost-town seen in the fading light of dusk, though inhabited by vital if lonely presences such as the moko’d kuia, Rauwha Tamiparea. Fiona Clark also celebrates the strength and determination of the Parihaka kuia who were witnesses for the land during the hearings associated with the Think Big projects during the Muldoon era. Her photograph of Te Whiti’s tomb was taken on 5 November 1981, the exact centenary of the ‘day of plunder’. The photographs of Gil Hanly and John Miller also testify to the powerful resilience of Parihaka and its people and the renaissance of recent times.

Of the fifteen artists commissioned to produce work specifically for the exhibition three were photographers: Anne Noble, Laurence Aberhart, and Natalie Robertson. Aberhart’s suite of five photographs collectively called The Prisoner’s Dream (1999–2000) consists of four images taken from inside the jail on Ripapa Island in Lyttelton Harbour where Parihaka prisoners were incarcerated. All that is visible through the slits of windows is narrow strips of bare hillside. These claustrophobic scenes are ranged on either side of a sublime image of Mount Taranaki (Taranaki from Oeo Rd, under Moonlight), the lengthy exposure of which gives a dreamy ethereality to the sacred mountain and lends itself perfectly to the imagined perspective of the exiled prisoners.

Natalie Robertson’s photographs of road signs, Te Whiti Rd. and Tohu Rd. are stark and potent visual signs which simultaneously reflect the reduction of the prophets’ mana to the trivial and mundane, and paradoxically their inflation into inspiring markers of direction for the future. The blackness against which the road signs stand out sharply might be read as either engulfing or fecund. As the label attached to these works points out, there is an implied connection here to Gordon Walters’s works Te Whiti (1964) and Tohu (1973); the first of which—Walters’s first koru painting—took its origin from the Wellington street in which he grew up. The addition a decade later of a work identical in size, materials, and colouration, named for Tohu, underlines emphatically the element of homage in Walters’s conception.

Twelve other artists were commissioned through a Lottery Board Millenium Grant to produce Parihaka related works especially for the exhibition. Not the least interest of this body of work—gifted by the artists to the people of Parihaka—were the widely differing points of connection the artists found with Parihaka in which to ground their contributions. John Baxter in his wooden tondo memorialised the “day of plunder”, seizing on the detail that both Tohu and Te Whiti had a finger missing from one hand. Fred Graham used customwood, tōtara, kahikatea, and tukutuku to focus on a point of family connection to Parihaka in the figures at the base of his sculpture. John Walsh in one of eleven small spiritual narratives (oil on board) focused on a dog that figures in Parihaka legend. Shane Cotton offered ten exquisite small oils on canvas, linked by the image of the albatross that was Tohu’s personal symbol and source of the raukura by which Te Whiti’s followers identified themselves. Darcy Nicholas (acrylic on paper) drew on his tribal association with Te Whiti and the prophet’s spiritual legacy. Tame Iti (at least I assume the work was his—I never found the label) offered an installation piece elusively enigmatic in its symbolism. Brett Graham’s beautifully carved kauri relief sculpture gave body to a figure of calm spiritual symbolism [and] authority. Para Matchitt’s elegant stainless steel relief entitled This One Is for Parihaka provided an image of the resolution of conflict in harmonious formality.

The largest and most majestic of the commissioned works was by Chris Heaphy. Entitled Stereo (Tohu and Te Whiti), this huge oil on four canvas panels incorporated a buried pun on the word “speakers”. The painting also references the shapes in McCahon’s works on paper celebrating Te Whiti and Te Ua, some of which are also included in the show, and also his Hi Fi painting from the Angels and Bed series of 1977. Two enormous abstract rectangles—one black, one pale blue abutted together, signify the contrasting but complementary voices of the prophets.

John Pule’s painting The Prophets, Showing Us How Far We Must Go to Achieve Human Freedom discovers a connection to Parihaka through the figure of Māui Pomāre who was a child at the village in 1881, and who later lent his name to the immigrant ship which brought Pule’s family to New Zealand in the 1960s. Pule’s imagery of horizontal stripes of red and black on white with the addition of a scattering of tiny drawn images is notably stark and spare, emphasising the theme of distance referred to in the title.

Seraphine Pick’s large, lively and crowded canvas Riki and Ruru ransacks historical photographs of Parihaka to create a busy and complex multiple narrative incorporating dozens of separate figures in a fashion that owes something to the Mexican muralists, with a hint of Latin American ‘magic realism’ in its fusing of the fabled and the historical.

In the upstairs long gallery was a large miscellany of works painted during the past three decades, some drawn from the centennial show of 1981, others inspired by visits to or reading about Parihaka. Among the artists in this gallery not previously mentioned were R.J. Bamberry, Don Driver, John Bevan Ford, Robert Jahnke, John Hovell, Lily Aitui Laita, Noel McKenna, Stanley Palmer, Rangi Skipper, Michael Smither, Barbara Strathdee, Danny Taputoro, Hariata Ropata Tangahoe, and Alan Taylor. It is impossible to describe here all the works included, but among those which stand out in my memory are the famous image by Michael Smither that provided the cover of Dick Scott’s book, featuring the mountain surmounted by the triple feathers of raukura; also included are Smither’s Kai Moana panels painted for the dining room of Te Niho at Parihaka, and normally attached to a pole at the centre of the whare kai. Stanley Palmer’s large flag of dyed silk is a striking piece, while Noel McKenna’s acrylic on tin with a piece of red string signifying both the mountain and its connection to the Parihaka people is also very effective, as are Rangi Skipper’s imposing sculptures.

The diversity of work in this large gallery while impressive is also rather wearying in its sheer profusion. I had the impression in this part of the show that the identification of and accumulation of Parihaka associated images had become something of an end in itself. The coherence of the impulse tends to lose itself in mere proliferation.

Ultimately more satisfying visually were the downstairs galleries where the artists who had focused on Te Whiti and Parihaka in a prolonged and consistent way were given sufficient space for their vision to be fully articulated. Tony Fomison’s portraits are typically gravid and compelling, testifying to the strong hold Te Whiti took on his imagination. Ralph Hotere’s Te Whiti paintings—mostly small in scale and dark in colour—are not among his more spectacular works. They are meditative pieces, heavily reliant on texts drawn from a wide range of sources—Dick Scott, John Caselberg, Hone Tūwhare—which require time and close attention to make their effect. They deserve a visit in themselves for their full impact to be felt.

Colin McCahon’s Parihaka works, on the other hand, are among his most accessible. It is fascinating that the acrylics on paper he made preparatory to the magnificent Parihaka Triptych bear so little resemblance to the larger work. Several of them depict the mountain in realistic style and bright colours, while Te Whiti and Tohu (or more usually Te Ua) are represented by shapes which might represent tombstones but which also have a strong connection to the landforms associated with the Necessary Protection series, a relation made explicit in the title Te Ua and Te Whiti Seen as Necessary Protection.

A work which stands apart from McCahon’s acrylics on paper is the delightful watercolour drawing An Ornament for the Pākehā (1972) which does point towards the triptych, and, indeed, aids in the explication of it by explicitly identifying the horizontal cross in the left-hand panel as signifying (among other things) a plough. It is evident from McCahon’s correspondence with John Caselberg—whom he consulted about Te Whiti—that his original intention was to use the image of the mountain in the triptych. He told Caselberg: ‘Eventually, however, the mountain disappeared, the colours were reduced to black and white, and the imagery of the cross and the eloquent words of Te Whiti were left to carry the burden of meaning alone: “I stand for peace”.’ One of the first of the many art works to be inspired by Te Whiti and Parihaka, the Parihaka Triptych remains the most compelling, and the inescapable centrepiece to this memorable exhibition.

  1. Ten poets were also commissioned to produce new pieces for the exhibition, fragments from which were displayed on the walls and will be included in full in the forthcoming publication. The poets were Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Dinah Hawken, Cilla McQueen. Chris Orsman. Roma Potiki, Elizabeth Smither, J.C. Sturm, Robert Sullivan. Aoirana Taylor, and Ian Wedde.
  2. Michael Shepherd’s Negative, discussed earlier, was also one of the commissioned works.
  3. Cohn McCahon to John Caselberg, 19 June 1972. Quoted in my forthcoming book, Answering Hark: McCahon/Caselberg : Painter/Poet (Nelson: Craig Potton Publishing, 2000: 113) with the permission of John Caselberg, the Hocken Library, and the Colin McCahon Research and Publication Trust.


Julie Paama-Pengelly, ‘Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance’, originally published Tu Mai, September 2000. (edited September 2017)

E kore ngā iwi nei e wareware ki tāku ngākau i pania

tāku kiri ki te tōmairangi e tūturu nei ki te whenua.

The people will never forget my heartfelt feeling.

My skin is smeared to the mists that cling to the land.

—Te Whiti o Rongomai

One could expect that an exhibition featured around a critical aspect of Māori political history, strategically timed to capture millennial significance, would likely garner a great deal of attention. A point not missed by the City Gallery, looking to deliver to a broad tax paying public, that had recently fired shots for the spate of glamorous imported exhibitions that failed dismally to pay the bills.

Pre-exhibition opening, it looked apparent that the Gallery aimed to secure maximum political mileage, especially among Māori. A powerful Saatchi and Saatchi advertising campaign on television saw the British flag symbolically slash the Parihaka community (only to have them rise again!) while featuring ‘confiscated’ landmarks, seemingly to spark new debate around government culpability. A cynic might consider this political prodding to be ‘milking controversy’; a bold marketing strategy, but perhaps there is more to the story?

To give Paula Savage (Director City Gallery) credit, penning her name to this exhibition seemingly posed some personal risk, for what started as a personal emotional journey to visit Parihaka in 1993, consequently became a massive public unburdening of grief over the historic events that happened there. Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance is the outcome of her private encounter with a piece of New Zealand history and some of the people affected. As she readily admits the result reflects her ‘feeling of enormous responsibility with this project’.

The ensuing exhibition emerges as an experience, although slightly uncomfortable for the average viewer, ‘safe’ enough to engage deeper inquisition of the historic events that transpired around Parihaka. For the Gallery staff Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance has without a doubt become an experiential event like no other. The various levels to which a Public Art Gallery might engage Māori in the process of representing their own subject matter, is undoubtedly a new lesson to develop further in the future.

Paula Savage insists that “the whole spirit of the project, has seen the gallery work hard to ensure that this is not a Pākehā-driven institution ‘doing the Parihaka story’”. Promotional material takes pains to point out the collaborative aspect of Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance, between the City Gallery and the people of Parihaka, ‘a unique working relationship’ with ‘decision-making going through both groups’. Parihaka denotes a first for a major public art gallery, to genuinely attempt faithful presentation of an overtly controversial and politically charged Māori theme.

At 10am Saturday 26 August 2000, the exhibition Parihaka was finally opened to the public. Supported by a groundswell of Māori representatives, ngā iwi o Taranaki me ngā tupuna o Parihaka Pā – many descendants as well, settled in Poneke (Wellington) – the opening proved to be something of a logistical challenge. The strident appeal of the karanga (womens call) echoed by the broad tone of the pūkāea (trumpet) invited the processional commencement, as a great sea of people marked time to the rhythmic beat of the Parihaka pahu (drum) towards Wellington City Gallery interior to bless Parihaka.

The Gallery, expectant of large crowds, had placed loud speakers outside and throughout Gallery spaces and established vigilant security. Still the opening was annoyingly oversubscribed and unless you managed to somehow skip to the front, you were likely not only to miss the officiating ceremonies, but also to be blockaded from entering parts of the Gallery itself. Fire safety being an obvious issue it may have been wiser to keep moving right through the Gallery spaces to conclude with, the too-many-in-total speeches, outside.

One significant gripe requires mention – the sausages (we were assured, gourmet!) and apples –  not that we mind simple food, Māori in fact are adept at making a banquet of basic fare, however manaakitanga certainly wasn’t served up that day. There was an ‘additional’ venue where dignitaries (at least those in the know) ate, while a good-hearted Māori had personally added a few kina to the tables to the thrill of those early seated. I couldn’t help thinking that supreme handling of the hakari (feast) might have served to redeem any prior exclusion from the protracted blessing process.

Moving to and around Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance we see the exhibition content  curatorially organised according to commissioned versus established fine art works that dealt with a broad range of Parihaka thematic – flanked by a side gallery specifically dedicated to historical material. Typically Public galleries struggle at this impasse, with bringing art and ‘historical’ material together in a meaningful way, to contextualise Māori art in a non-Eurocentric manner and as continuous practice pre-Western art. Snippets from commissioned poems flow above art works in the top galleries, with quotes by prophets Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi dispersed around. Centrally placed glass-plate photographic portraits of the two prophets have been reproduced and serve as mnemonic poupou to mark the entrance to the exhibition space, such as might be represented inside a conventional Māori whare whakairo (meeting house).

Photographs taken at Parihaka Pā by Marti Friedlander in 1969 provide a melancholic story of a relatively low period in the Pā’s history. Significant painted works by Colin McCahon and Ralph Hotere present important responses to the 1973 exhibition Taranaki Saw It All, curated by James Mack. The Parihaka Centennial in 1981 spurred another generation of responses, including painted works by Tony Fomison and Nigel Brown, as well as a number of famous literary pieces. Add to all of this current commentary commissioned for the show, brought together in a large-format 240-page book (Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance 2002 edited by Te Miringa Hohaia, Gregory O’Brien and Lara Strongman, Victoria University Press) and Māori historic redress comes to the fore of next millennial political agenda.

Critical consideration around the merits of Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance should be concerned with the curatorial practice itself. To be expected are prior art works already created by Māori and non-Māori around the theme of Parihaka. In addition a $75,000 Lottery Grant to commission Māori and Pākehā to produce new works, seems a generous idea, however arguably more emphasis should be placed on bringing Māori voices to the fore, being those that have been historically supressed – then the question can be asked that of those Māori, which ones are valid?

While Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance gives voice to many responses, the significant impact of lengthy and protracted suffering and loss through the Land Wars, was born by the immediate communities surrounding Parihaka Pā and the wider Taranaki region. Bearing the full brunt of colonisation, confiscation and government oppression during the nineteenth century, which came to a head with the sacking of Parihaka by government troops in 1881, might be therefore considered the ‘last nail in the coffin’ in essentially, a much bigger story. The real historical experiences and their subsequent expression which led to the establishment of Parihaka Pā, should provide the ngakau or heart – missing from the exhibition.

Public art galleries tend to qualify works for exhibition as those greatest on offer, according to the norms of Western fine art practice, an approach that polarizes historic Maori production as biopic. This reinforces a nostalgic, romanticised journey where the voices have less strength in the present alongside the more utopian romantic appeal of ‘beautiful paintings and poetry’, desensitising us to the historic “heinous injustices”. It is easier therefore to read Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance as glorious evidence of the beautiful place Māori have now realized notwithstanding adverse conditions, rather than confront the bold  reality that social, cultural, economic and political injustices for Taranaki Māori, seriously require redress.

A more rigorous curatorial which requires the public to take a more challenging journey would be more ingenious and far more useful such as suggested in works such the Halifax Gibbet (later modified and coined the ‘guillotine’ by the French) the British weapon of feudal punishment and oppression, by artist Rangi Kipa. The viewer is confronted by the life-size scale of an accurate wooden replica, burned and charred black with a gnarly rusted wood saw blade precariously looming above. Rangi Kipa, has carved out kōrero (words) in Māori that declare angry protest at the debilitation of Taranaki Māori through British oppressive colonial history of waging war against Māori and subsequently confiscating their land. Parihaka Pā presents more than an artistic legacy, it is a living story on which subsequent generations of Māori artists, writers and activists have opinions to express.

The Parihaka Pā story has wrenched at non-Māori heart-strings more than any other historical Māori resistance movement, Te Whiti o Rongomai being touted as New Zealand’s equivalent of Ghandi – referenced in John Walsh’s painting Te Whiti Meets with Ghandi (from his Parihakatanga 2000 series). Māori however, live still with the legacy of what occurred in Taranaki, which is more than a heart-string-pulling ‘story’ of sanitised struggle.

Robert Jahnke adds another dimension to the Parihaka Pā story with his work honouring Te Whiti o Rongomai of Parihaka as one of a long line of Māori prophets, whose leadership was characterised by their adaptation of the religious doctrine of churches to Māori belief systems. We are reminded that the prophets and leadership that preceded Parihaka had up until then fought philosophical battles on the physical battlefield and while not always palatable, examining this history is crucial to context.

The assumption of a western model of curatorial is partially to blame for the omission in Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance, of extensive paintings by well-respected Māori artist Selwyn Muru, apparently withdrawn by the artist himself in protest to Tame Iti (considered formally unschooled as an artist) being one of the formally commissioned artists. Curatorial inclusion accorded to those of ‘finest artist status’ and relative notoriety are always subjective and could have been avoided if a Māori cultural paradigm had been adopted and articulated from the outset.

The collaborative process on behalf of Parihaka Pā largely occurred through Te Miringa Hohaia, resident and leader, however any form of collaboration is inherently problematic when it involves the rate payer purse, which means in reality final veto rests with the paying institution. It is also a disturbing trend that Gallery Directors are signing their names to the exhibition curatorial, while conspicuously, Te Miringa Hohaia is omitted – institutional elitism?

At so many levels Māori engagement with Wellington City Gallery has been ground-breaking, with  opportunities for Parihaka descendants to be involved from grassroots operation through to public programming, hanging and working as kaiarahi or guides to the exhibition. The public programme is accessible (ie. free) and allows direct interface with descendants of Parihaka Pā, which will be invaluable as ongoing resources. Indeed, published and archival resources around the programming are likely to provide the most enduring benefit for future education around the events of Parihaka.

While Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance is less than a fairytale, the point is that there is now a new model from which to work from and build upon in the future – to challenge what is typically a mono-cultural process. Notable itself that a Māori story is told, as the ripples it pitches around both Māori and non-Māori communities provides for an ideological awakening with regards to other Māori issues, particularly the Taranaki Claim currently in front of the Waitangi Tribunal. It is significant too that the commissioned works are being gifted by the artists to Parihaka Pā, a concession to notions of institutional ownership of art and acknowledging that they are an empowering and powerful artistic legacy when placed within the context of Parihaka Pā itself.


Laurence Simmons, ‘Bearing Witness’, Landfall, May 2001.

Those who are bent by the wind Shall rise again when the wind softens

—Tohu Kākahi


Every ten or so years on the gallery circuit there is an exhibition which reassigns curatorial boundaries and defines the future of expositional, even critical, practice. These exhibitions have not necessarily contained the best or most representative examples of current New Zealand art, nor have they been the most popular with artists or the viewing public. One such example was Francis Pound’s 1983 Auckland City Art Gallery exhibition entitled New Image which framed New Zealand images in the context of the recent styles of contemporary American art. The painters selected for his exhibition, Pound declared, ‘paint new images for New Zealand, and paint them in a new kind of way’. There was also the novelty of seeing our images in an international context, since for these painters, Pound went on to argue, ‘a New Zealand identity in art is, now, a dead question’. The subsequent protracted debate on the nationalism/internationalism of New Zealand art practice during the 1980s could not have occurred without the stimulus of Pound’s New Image exploration. Similarly, the multifariously curated 1992 exhibition entitled Headlands inaugurated the ‘fun-park aesthetic’ of the new museology which has sadly dominated not only curation but also museum construction here in the 90s. Headlands’ cheap shots at one of its more senior participating artists in catalogue essays, its corny juxtaposition of painting and popular culture, and its shoddy social historicising caused another participating artist Richard Killeen to re-baptise it ‘Hatelands’. Despite (or was it because of?) this bad faith, Headlands’ populism can be said to have initiated a (still ongoing) decade of the ‘Te Papa-isation’ of New Zealand art.

I believe that Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance is just such another ‘redefining’ exhibition, one which provides a pathway for future curatorial practice. It is deliberately a visual mishmash: historical photographs and contemporary ones (in particular a stunning sequence by Laurence Aberhart), personal sketches, eyewitness accounts and drawings, poetry (by J.C. Sturm, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Dinah Hawken, Robert Sullivan, Cilla McQueen, Ian Wedde, Chris Orsman, Elizabeth Smither, Roma Pōtiki, and Apirana Taylor), careful historical study and reconstruction (by Hazel Riseborough following on from Dick Scott’s pioneering work The Parihaka Story and then Ask that Mountain), commissioned and even recommissioned artwork (by Colin McCahon, Ralph Hotere, Tony Fomison, Michael Smither, Nigel Brown, Barry Brickell, Don Driver, John Novell, Stanley Palmer, Para Matchitt, Laurence Aberhart, Anne Noble, Michael Shepherd, Darcy Nicholas, Seraphine Pick, Pauline Thompson, John Walsh, Chris Heaphy, John Pule, Shane Cotton, Brett Graham, Fred Graham, John Baxter, Tame Iti, and Natalie Robertson), contemporary song (Brian Pōtiki and Tim Finn). The complex protocols and processes to put together such a heterogeneous mix were negotiated by City Gallery staff over a period of seven years and involved, for gallery staff, a new way of working with a community entailing the building of trust as well as the sharing of power and decision making.

Walking around this exhibition, or perhaps one should more appositely say ‘ploughing through’ its divers layers (in the City Gallery the exhibition was divided into four large sections), and negotiating the interplay of the historical, the institutional and the personal, the literary and the visual, is a complex and layered experience which triggers multiple forms of memory both collective and individual. While I was in the gallery a group of visitors, breaking into squeals of delighted recognition, came upon photographs of themselves as children in a glass case. I was reminded of two European traditions of image collection. One was the Jewish yizker-bikher—historical commonplace books of communities produced collectively and made up of statistics, historical narrative, biographies of leading citizens, interspersed with eyewitness accounts, personal sketches and reflections, summaries of folklore, even drawings, maps and photographs. Most yizker books were compiled in response to the Holocaust and are the equivalent in words and pictures to communal tombstones memorialising a life that has vanished. The Jewish-Māori connection is suggestively explored by Professor Paul Morris in his catalogue essay and I want to return to it in a moment. I was also reminded of the walls of certain Catholic churches where one finds a corner, often the niche of a favoured saint, crowded with notes to the Virgin Mary, hopeful plaques, painted images and beaten-silver body-part relics, inscriptions of all shapes and sizes, words snatched from a private but also a communal tragedy. For in all these instances we find survivors speaking for the dead through forms of collective memory.


Parihaka is paradoxically one of the most shameful episodes and one of the most gripping stories in New Zealand’s colonial history. Under the compelling leadership of two rangatira, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, the settlement of Parihaka on the slopes of Taranaki became a refuge for thousands of Māori dispossessed and made homeless by land confiscations. Government land confiscations were then to include the Parihaka block itself. To test the legitimacy of Government land seizure Te Whiti and Tohu employed a strategy of removing survey pegs, ploughing, planting and erecting fences on surveyed land. On 5 November 1881, the village of Parihaka was invaded by a militia of 1500 settlers under the command of John Bryce, the then Native Minister. Offering no resistance, hundreds of the followers of the community’s spiritual leaders Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested and suffered transportation and imprisonment for years in the South Island, where many died from harsh prison conditions. Over several months in a war of attrition the prosperous and self-sufficient village of Parihaka was systematically razed, homes were looted and burnt, crops destroyed and livestock slaughtered. Maps were finally redrawn in an attempt to obliterate the memory of Parihaka from the face of the earth.

In September 2000, almost one hundred and twenty years later, Associate Minister of Māori Affairs Tariana Turia was to use the term ‘holocaust’ along with the notion of ‘postcolonial traumatic stress disorder’ to describe the impact of the Crown’s actions at Parihaka and the subsequent effects of colonisation upon the people of Taranaki. Turia’s speech inflamed much media controversy and self-righteous indignation concerning the ‘improper’ use she had made of the word holocaust, eventually causing the Prime Minister to issue an edict banning all use of the term on the part her ministers. However, it should be pointed out that the ‘correct’ use of the term holocaust is itself ‘incorrect’ and the history of an incorrect term may also prove instructive. ‘Holocaust’ is the scholarly transcription of the Latin holocaustum which, in turn, is a translation of the Greek term holocaustos which means ‘completely burned’. The semantic history of the term is thus essentially Christian, and paradoxically it was used by the Church Fathers both as a polemical weapon against the Jews, to condemn Old Testament sacrifice, and also as a laudatory term, to glorify the sufferings of the Christian martyrs. Even Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is ultimately defined as a holocaust by St. Augustine. So, given this history of semantic migration, the real question around the use of the term ‘holocaust’ in a New Zealand context concerns the notion of collective memory and its function.

We need to be reminded again here of the distinction to be made between public history and collective memory. I am referring to the rupture noted by several commentators between modern historiography, its fact gathering and technicity, and the ritualised forms of meaning bestowal of collective memory shaped by folklore, the Bible, literature, and art that transmit and recreate the past in an organic fashion in a self-reparative process of handing down wisdom from generation to generation. This is the real issue in the holocaust analogy, the issue of history in relation to memory, the issue of what refuses to disappear. Here again we must not underestimate the crucial importance of images and symbols in keeping events ‘before our eyes’ and the responsibility so engendered towards the represented subject. In the imperative to make everything visible the viewer’s eyes are fully implicated, and we are made aware of our silent and detached glance as spectators removed in time and place.

At the same time, as they begin to circulate among a wider populace, we need to be attentive to the sanitising of the images of Parihaka where its potent symbols may easily become trite (I sense this has already happened with the raukura image of Michael Smither’s Ask that Mountain, 1973) used on the cover of Dick Scott’s book). Such instances are further proof that the issue of how memory and history become art is always a complicated one. The exhibition catalogue testifies that what consistently exercised Government concerns at the time were the political not the spiritual dimensions of Parihaka. This point is voiced strongly in an essay by Ruakere Hond: ‘Images of passive resistance are prominent in references to Parihaka, where the plough has become a symbol of peaceful protest as much as it is a tool of cultivation, where associations are made with Gandhi to demonstrate the success of this strategy of resistance, and where the Bible is portrayed as a source of inspiration for this initiative. If Parihaka is limited to such a narrow focus of representation we are all the poorer …The true value of Parihaka is in its historic ability to innovate the assertion of Māori authority.’

The many works on paper of Ralph Hotere in this exhibition, his ‘ploughings’, explore the notion of sovereignty and land rights together with the metaphor of textual inscription into the land. Hotere does this through a combination of formal drawn lines which suggest the inscribing of lines into the darkness of the earth through the process of ploughing and by the literal presence of texts—proverbs and waiata and their translations, poems by Hone Tūwhare and James K. Baxter—dug into the fabric of his paintings, which allow the political message of Te Whiti and others to go on reverberating. Exhibition co-curator Gregory O’Brien in his insightful essay notes how Hotere’s works ‘assert the human presence in the natural environment’ since ‘the ploughed line in the landscape has an analogue in the line left by the tattooist’s chisel or needle. Traditional Māori moko is a furrow drawn into the human skin.’

Michael Shepherd’s Negative (2000) is a meticulous transcription of the details of an 1881 photograph of Parihaka from the Alexander Turnbull Library. But here Shepherd’s earthy-brown worked impasto gives a materiality to the ploughed ground which the black and white photographic original could not capture. The tiny painted fracture lines of the shattering of the glass negative (transgressive plough lines in their own right) are an intimation of the political reverberation of the events at Parihaka. Shepherd’s only addition to the bare facts of the composition is a white flag, or more precisely a white ground ambiguously inscribed ‘their flag’ where a flag ought to be. In this crucial play of signs it is important to remember, too, that the only artworks in this exhibition to engage with the legacy of Parihaka which were generated entirely from within an artist’s oeuvre—that is, were not commissioned and solicited by a curator (either James Mack in 1972, or the organisers of the 1981 Parihaka Centennial Exhibition and Art Auction held at the Govett-Brewster Gallery, or the curators of the present exhibition)—are Te Whiti (1964) and Tohu (1973) by abstract artist Gordon Walters. These two black-and-white examples of Walters’s Koru series, painted ten years apart and of almost equal dimensions, stand like sentinels to one of the main sections of the City Gallery exhibition. In his ambitious large work, Stereo (Tohu and Te Whiti) (2000), the younger artist Chris Heaphy attempts to engage in a dialogue between Tohu and Te Whiti but also one between Walters and himself. It is anomalous, I feel, that in the accompanying catalogue McCahon’s Parihaka Triptych (1972) is accorded the status of two fine catalogue essays (by Wystan Curnow and Jonathan Mané-Wheoki), while Walters merely receives a one-page statement (illuminating as it is) from his widow. There has been as yet no real widespread understanding of the ethical and political dimensions of Walters’s particular combination of Māori cultural influence and Western modernism.


We continue to face with greater sensitivity, but also with an increased sense of impotence and weightlessness, murderous racial politics: genocidal episodes in Cambodia, ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Rwanda and Bosnia . . . While there are clear distinctions to be made between a ‘Final Solution’ aimed at the extermination of every Jew and the obliteration of a village, its inhabitants, and their vision, these events do raise the same questions about our species. Are we, can we consider ourselves, truly human—part of a ‘family of man’? What about the veneer of progress, culture and educability we claim to embrace, and which in this case Pākehā colonialism purported to bring its subjects? So it is that the focusing power of the story of Te Whiti and Tohu which links us to their past also links them to our future.

These fundamental moral questions are not over, as Tariana Turia tried to argue; they are not simply part of a history (and thus forgetfulness). Anyone who comes into contact with them is still gripped, finds detachment difficult. How not to talk about them is the challenge. This is the “stress” of the post-colonial for both sides. How do we approach such a dark moment of our past? What does forgiveness or reconciliation mean? Especially in circumstances when the offence may not be forgotten. The issue of response cannot be separated from that of responsibility. How do we handle, as both Pākehā and Māori, the imputation of collective guilt? In 1999 in a public lecture entitled ‘Forgiving the Unforgivable’ in the Auckland Town Hall, the French philosopher Jacques Derrida explored the Latin origin of ‘pardon’, its meanings and usages in French, English, and German, and the way they carry over aporias of ‘the gift’, ‘giving’, ‘forgiving’, ‘forgiveness’ (donner, le don, pardon). With great seriousness and understanding he played off their ambiguities, exploring their multiple meanings in various texts, and their valencies in contemporary contexts: the Holocaust, decolonisation, ethnic conflict, crimes against humanity. And, as he concluded, ‘forgiveness is an impossible truth or an impossible gift’.

Art as a performative medium, not art reduced to official meaning or information, has a chance to transmit this ‘impossible gift’ as a counter-force to manufactured memory since, despite its imaginative licence, art is more effective in embodying historically specific ideas than the history writing on which it may depend and draw. Indeed, one thing that does counteract the despair and enforced silence around the Parihaka story is the surprising energy and creativity that has eventually emerged from the initial devastation, the artworks that have been returned as literal gifts to the people of Parihaka. The artists, photographers, and poets gathered in this exhibition and its accompanying volume of essays and images have erected signposts which allow future cartographers to chart a new ethical territory in which we can orient ourselves. We are only at the beginning of an understanding of this ‘politics of memory’ and Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance shines like a beacon at the beginning of the twenty-first century to guide us towards a new shape of knowing.

  1. See Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books, 1999), 28–31.
  2. See, for example, Maurice Halbwachs, La Memoire Collective (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1968), and Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982).

Lin Ferguson, ‘Country’s Top Artists Paint for Parihaka’, Sunday Star Times, 16 July 2000.

One of the darkest but most heroic periods in New Zealand history will be celebrated in a major exhibition by the country’s leading artists.

Parihaka, the story of the 1880s invasion of Parihaka Pā, the rise of spiritual leaders Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi and their people’s incarceration, opens at the Wellington City Gallery next month.

Director Paula Savage promises some of the most searching artwork ever seen in this country.

‘Parihaka has possibly the most dynamic and dramatic message ever seen at the gallery’, Savage said.

Works have been commissioned from fifteen artists including Ralph Hotere, Anne Noble, Séraphine Pick, Para Matchitt, John Baxter, and Tame Iti. The works will be given to the people of Parihaka Pā after the exhibition, Savage said.

Leading New Zealand artist Shane Cotton, 35, was honoured to be asked to paint for the exhibition.

‘I’ve been to Parihaka and was moved by the intense spirituality there. This is a special privilege. It is a beautiful, beautiful place.’

Cotton is painting ten small works, all of a white albatross on a dark background. Painting an albatross in varying characterisations was inspired by a famous Parihaka legend, he said.

‘There is a famous story told by Tohu about an albatross that had flown down into the village sanctioning the spirit among the people and symbolising peace’, he said.

Leading artworks in the exhibition include Colin McCahon’s Parihaka Triptych (1973), with nine of his rarely seen works of Te Whiti, Tohu, and the Parihaka settlement. Ralph Hotere’s Te Whiti series of twenty works painted at the same time as the McCahons, also feature with quotations from nineteenth-century Māori leaders including Te Whiti and Te Heu Heu.

Other artists featured include Tony Fomison, Gordon Walters, Michael Smither, and Robert Jahnke.

A 240-page book has been published for the exhibition with a history of Parihaka, commissioned poems from writers including Cilia McQueen, Alistair Campbell and J.C. Sturm as well as earlier works from Mervyn Thompson and poems by James K. Baxter, Hone Tūwhare, and Sam Hunt.

Robyn McLean, ‘Parihaka’s Pain in Paint’, Daily News, 9 September 2000.

As rainclouds begin to clear, slivers of sunlight filter down. In the distance the distinctive voice of Tim Finn is piped from outside speakers: ‘Come to Parihaka …’, he sings. And they come.

But the peak of Taranaki is not visible. This is not Taranaki. This is Wellington. Home to the ground breaking Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance exhibition.

As people shuffle into Wellington’s City Gallery, there is an air of apprehension. Most visitors are aware that this is not your usual display of art. The works hanging from the white-washed walls tell a story. The story of Parihaka.

From the foyer, the visitors are directed into the first of four rooms by a group of young hosts. These people are kaiārahi (guides) from Parihaka. Well spoken and trendy, they are the future leaders of the historic coastal Taranaki pā.

Downstairs a kuia stands in front of a large Colin McCahon painting. She leans on a twisted wooden cane and stares ahead. Silent. Unblinking.

Viewing the works, many of which have never been shown in public before, is an emotional experience, reducing some visitors to tears.

‘There’s definitely a spiritual quality to this exhibition that’s moving people’, says Gallery Director Paula Savage. ‘Some of the works are very haunting and they stay in your imagination. They are very special.’

Indeed they are. On display are more than 200 paintings, sculptures, and photos from some of New Zealand’s best known artists. Tony Fomison, Ralph Hotere, and Nigel Brown have all conveyed in paint and brush their feelings about Parihaka. Alongside these, emerging artists such as Tame Iti and Taranaki photographer Fiona Clark show the Parihaka story is one that continues to influence.

The exhibition has been a long time in the making. It is the first time the Parihaka people have wanted their story to be told, and there were times when Savage doubted that it would be.

‘They had to be ready to tell their story to the world because they hadn’t done that before. They had to be confident we would treat their story with integrity.’

‘There were a couple of times when I thought “this is too hard”. I felt that it was too much responsibility to tell the story. It’s such a living history. I needed time and the people of Parihaka needed time.’

But as the new millennium dawned it was clear the exhibition would go ahead, something that pleased Savage immensely.

Sipping a latte at the Gallery’s cafe, she says working with the people of Parihaka was an invaluable experience.

‘Personally it is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my career. I’ve been very haunted by the exhibition. At times I felt I had to walk away from it, but I never could. It took hold of me, really. Whenever things seemed to be falling apart, something would happen and it would all come together again.’

Back inside the gallery a kaiārahi begins his talk. A small crowd gathers around him. He makes eye contact with them as he speaks. A series of black-and-white photographs on the wall behind him show his land, his buildings, his past, and his future.

Among the crowd are women with white feathers in their hair. They are a symbol of the non-violent resistance message preached by Parihaka prophets Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi.

During the early days of Parihaka, an albatross was said to have flown over the pā. A few of its feathers dropped to the ground and were gathered up by the villagers and given to Te Whiti. They have remained part of the Parihaka story ever since.

The feathers feature in many of the works on display, but in one painting, hanging at the far end of the upstairs gallery, they are particularly dominant.

Floating in the air above Taranaki, the Michael Smither painting is familiar to many. It is on the cover of Dick Scott’s famous book about Parihaka, Ask that Mountain.

Scott is held in high regard by the people of Parihaka. They are grateful to him for telling their story. A speech he gave at the gallery filled a large auditorium, and afterwards Māori people queued to meet him, kissing him on the cheek and shaking his hand in turn.

Scott is a short man, with a grey beard and sparkling eyes. He looks more like an old sailor than a man who would write a bestseller.

It was a case of the chicken pox that led to his interest in the events at Parihaka.

‘I ran out of reading material. I picked up a transcript of a liable action. In the wealth of information, the word Parihaka kept popping up. So when I got better I went down from Auckland to have a look.’

‘They tried to suppress it. No daily paper in the country reviewed it except the Auckland Star and the guy who did it was a friend! Corbett, who was the Māori Affairs Minister, put his staff on it to go through it line by line to find mistakes. He couldn’t find anything.’

Some Taranaki schools even banned the controversial book. But despite that, it still sold out.

Thirteen years later, the people of Parihaka called Scott to ask him to reprint it. He said he liked the idea, but would prefer to do a fuller version.

And he did just that. This time every paper in the country reviewed it. The book, which has been described as one of the most important historical books ever written in New Zealand, is currently in its eighth edition.

Fifteen artists, Māori and Pākekā, were commissioned to provide work for the show. These works will be gifted to the people of Parihaka when the exhibition closes in January next year.

Among them is the work of Taranaki artist Rangi Skipper. Skipper has two of the more controversial pieces in the show—a guillotine and a set of stocks.

‘I was trying to connect people on an emotional level. I was looking for icons that had an inherent history and a sense of dread. I wanted to side-step the baggage and deal with the emotions’, says Skipper.

‘The stocks represent the legal constraints and measures used by colonisers to immobilise Māori. The guillotine embodies the way settler attitudes affected Māori. It was a colonial death machine.’

In one of the upstairs rooms is a series of photographs taken when Parihaka was thriving. Broad faces look out of thatched huts, scattered around the settlement.

For anyone who has seen Parihaka as it stands today, the photos are shocking. It’s almost impossible to believe the changes that have taken place over the years. It was once occupied by hundreds of residents. Today just sixty people live there.

Parihaka resident Te Miringa Hohaia played a major part in organising the exhibition and hopes it will put the spotlight on Parihaka and allow its people to continue spreading the message of peace.

With his dark brown eyes locked in a determined gaze, he says this is part of the reason why the exhibition needed to be held in Wellington.

‘This is where the seat of power is and this is where it’s making the impact. It would not have made the same impact in New Plymouth.’

Hohaia wanted people to know about the importance of Parihaka because he has big plans for its future. With a sense of desperation in his voice, he rattles off a list of things the pā needs, including an on-site art gallery to house the gifted works.

He also hopes the exhibition will help his people move on from their painful history. But he says it’s important people don’t forget about the past either.

Savage agrees.

‘It’s a story that has relevance for all of us. I think the millennium is a good time to tell it because it’s a time when we look back over our history, we are living in the present, we are taking stock of the past and we are also looking at the bigger picture to find a way to go forward into the future with harmony and unity.’

Savage says it is impossible not to be inspired by the story of Te Whiti and Tohu. ‘They were great leaders. You can put them alongside people like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. They are leaders of that stature. New Zealanders need to be very proud we have these people. Their story is of international significance.’

Adding to the exhibition’s significance, photos of Te Whiti and Tohu are on public display, for the first time since they were secretly taken more than a hundred years ago.

Late in the afternoon people hover in the gallery foyer. They have witnessed a remarkable show and gained a greater understanding of an important event in New Zealand’s history, and now it seems they don’t want to leave.

When they do pass through the glass doors out into Wellington’s Civic Square, Tim Finn is still pleading ‘Come to Parihaka …’

Many will. But next time they might travel to the real Parihaka, at the base of Mt Taranaki.