Exploring our city’s stories

“The Lighthouse”, by artist Michael Parekowhai

We’ve had another lovely day exploring different aspects of our city with Taiga, our 9-year-old friend from Earthsong.

We found a beautifully produced booklet called Te Paparahi, Toi Maori: Walks in the City , produced by Maori artists and designers and supported by the Auckland Council and ATEED, the Council’s tourism and events organisation.  It has pictures and descriptions of 60 sculptures and installations around central Auckland celebrating Maori identity.

There are eight maps of suggested walks with descriptions of up to 12 items of interest on each; we chose to concentrate only on the area around the waterfront. We spent several hours enjoying some beautiful works and their diversity, learning heaps in the process. And we have more than 50 to discover yet!

We began with two sculptures on the first map – both of them highly controversial when they were installed.

A Maori Chief in a Kaitaka Cloak

The first, above, is very well known. It was installed in downtown Auckland in 1967- the first public sculpture in New Zealand by a woman, Molly Macalister. It portrays a Maori chief as an exceptionally tall figure, fully cloaked, and holding a mere in the position of peace at his side..thus breaking all the conventional Pakeha stereotypes of the time, of Maori chiefs as crouching warriors brandishing weapons .

The second is one of the most startling works, most recent, and most controversial creations : Michael Parekowhai’s The Lighthouse .  

As featured at the head of this post, it is a full-size replica of a 2-storeyed 1950s weatherboard state house- but inside it is illuminated with a coloured neon representation of Matariki, the constellation signalling the beginning of spring in our southern hemisphere sky.

Inside also, on the native timber flooring, perched on a small steel table, is a larger-than-life polished stainless steel sculpture of Captain James Cook, his feet not quite touching the native-timbered floor. His posture is equivocal- perhaps disconsolate? uneasy? or just uncomfortable? Anyway, the whole work (commissioned as a gift to the people of Auckland by Real Estate agents Barfoot and Thompson in 2017 in celebration of their 90 years of service to the city) has been the subject of huge debate, especially sited as it is on one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the city…

Many layers of possible meanings…

...housing, and the lack of it today, and the role state housing played in constructing a more just society…the uses of native timbers and the destruction of forests… ….the glorification of English and European explorers… British colonisation of so much of the world…the blind reverence for Cook and the lack of acknowledgement for earlier Maori explorers, without sextants, navigating by the stars, discovering this land a thousand years earlier than Cook, and settling here in significant numbers centuries before Europeans…

And following is a gallery of some of the other works we saw…click on each image for a detailed view. The top row show outside and inside of The Lighthouse.

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  1. Molly”s sculpture is extra tall because it was intended to be viewed from below and she had to take foreshortening into account. Then the Council in its ignorance brought it down to ground level.
    According to one of Molly’s oldest friends, ‘Molly would be turning in her grave at what they’ve done.’

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