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Kia kaha, kia māia, kia manawanui. Be strong, be brave, be steadfast.
This is the first in a series of exhibitions juxtaposing artists exploring the theme of encounter. Auckland artist Michael Parekōwhai meets Congolese-Belgian musician and filmmaker Baloji. Both address the unreadability of the other.
In Parekōwhai's installation, two figurative sculptures confront one another in a stand off. A life-size astronaut in a spacesuit bears a NASA emblem (advertising America’s colonisation of the moon) and a Tino Rangatiratanga one (protesting the colonisation of New Zealand). Titled The Night Watch (2018), the figure is inscrutable—a mirrored visor conceals his or her identity. What could NASA’s and Tino Rangatiratanga’s joint mission be? The other sculpture is a maquette version of Parekōwhai’s Māori security guard for hire, Kapa Haka (2015), arms defiantly crossed. The meeting is like something out of Gulliver’s Travels. What do we make of them, and they of one another?
Baloji shot his music clip Peau de Chagrin/Bleu de Nuit (Heartbreak/Night Bruise) (2018) during his residency at Lusanga International Research Centre for Art and Economic Inequality, a post-plantation art centre in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s based on a Pygmy marriage ceremony, following a bride and groom leading up to their wedding. As the artist explains, ‘Many shots depict an absent partner, which implies that one of them has gone back on their promises; changed their mind. The film illustrates this allegorically, showing the two protagonists alone in their wedding finery in front of the ceremonial installations.’ The implied disconnection between lovers maps onto the disconnection between the Congo (as subject) and the Western gaze. As Baloji sings, ‘When you come back to the scene, you see me as you’d like, not as I am, the version of me in your memory of those first nights …’