Haukura/Neon Voice: Recent works by Zena Elliott
10 March - 12 June 2016
A selection of recent works by Zena Elliott (Ngaati Awa). These works represent new ideas and moves in her work; a synthesis between her past explorations into pop culture in all its gaudiness and a distinctive Maaori voice.
Elliott’s works are bold colour and geometric explorations that defy all expectations of what being Maaori and an artist means in the 21st Century. They speak with clarity and boldness, and represent powerful imagery spoken to Elliott by her tuupuna (ancestors).
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Image: Energy Transformation. Acrylic and enamel on marine ply, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Milford Galleries Dunedin.
Ngaa mahi noo na tata nei naa Zena Elliott
Ngaati Awa, Te Whaanau A Apanui, Ngai Te Rangi, Te Arawa
Koo te haukura, teetehi o ngaa puumotu hau o roto o te huinga hau kua tapaina hei hau rangatira ki te taka puumotu. Haakoa kaaore kau he tae, he mea e whakamahitia ana e koorekoreko ai ngaa rama haukura. Kua tiikina ake teenei kupu hei ingoa moo ngaa mahi a Zena Elliott e kitea ai te hanga piiataata ka puta, heoi, he mea ruku kii ngaa kura huna, ngaa mea kei roto tonu kaaore e tino kitea ana, kaaore e tino maarama ana, engari kei te poho o ngaa mahi a Elliott e noho pakari ana. Koia nei koo te reo o oona tuupuna.
E tino kitea ana te haa Maaori kii eenei mahi. Kaa waiho ake te mata kua koowhaiwhaitia hei kaainga moo ngaa hei tiki me ngaa koru. Kia whakatauritehia kii te reo kaaranga, kooia raa eenei mahi e orooro ana i te haa o te ora.
Tihei mauri ora
I kiitea tuatahitia te kano koorekoreko me te peita e teetehi tokorua tuakana, teina noo Kariwhoonia, e Bob raaua koo Joe Switzer i ngaa tekau tau 1930. I kitea teetehi aho pango, ka tiimata ki te raaweke i ngaa puumotu kii te whare hoko rongoaa o oo raaua maatua. I reira i kitea e taea ana ngaa matuu koorekoreko o te unahi ngarara (shellac) te whakaroonaki, koinaa tonu te peita tuatahi i puta i aa raaua rawekehanga.
I whanake ake eenei rawekehanga ki te waihanga i ngaa momo peita e miramira ai ngaa waka rererangi i ngaa poo.
I teenei raa, e hia kee nei ngaa maero i taua takiwā ki Aotearoa, kia tiikina ake ngaa peita koorekoreko e Zena Elliott hei whakamahi i ngaa waa awatea ki aana mahi, kaaore hoki he take o te aho kikiwa e whakaputa anoo ai te aho ka ngotea.
Naa te hanahana o ngaa tae kōrekoreko me te rerekee oo ngaa tae o te wahie me ngaa peita maaori, e tino kitea te peita e puta mai ana i te papa. I eetehi waa ka riro i ngaa koowhaiwhai te aronga, ka mutu, he uhi moo ngaa koorero o roto.
Ko te hononga o Elliott ki te whenua, ehake i te mea whaanui, engari, he whaaiti, he hoohonu. Ko Te Teko toona tuurangawaewae, toona kaainga. E kaingaakau ana oona kaumaatua ki ngaa mahi e puta ana i a ia, ka mutu, e whakamana ana aana mahi hei taaonga toi e pupuru ana i ngaa tauira tuku iho a Ngaati Awa.
Ko ngaa totoro o mua aa Elliott ki te whakamahi i ngaa tae pīataata, koorekoreko he mea whanake i toona maaramatanga me taana whakawhiti i te ito o ngaa momo ahurea waiata o eenei waa me te whakauru ki te ao Maaori. Ehara i te mea kua arotahi atu a Elliott kii ngaa rerehua Maaori, kua tahuri kee. He mea whakamaatau kee aana mahi o mua, aa, kaaore hoki eenei mea i te kaha raweketia e ngaa tangata toi Maaori, haaunga a Matt Pine, Toi Te Rito Maihi, Hinerangitoariari Winifred Belcher, ehara i te mea i tino kitea te aahuatanga Maaori i roto i ngaa mahi a Elliott. Ko te take kua panoni i teenei aahuatanga ko tana aro kii oona maatua, tuupuna me aa raatou toronga ki aana mahi. Hakoa e noho maawehe tonu pea ana eenei mahi i te tirohanga Maaori, he Maaori tonu.
Naa Leafa Wilson
Poutiaki Whakataki (Toi)
Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato
Recent works by Zena Elliott
Ngaati Awa, Te Whaanau a Apanui, Ngai Te Rangi, Te Arawa
Neon (Ne), as an element, is a noble gas according to the Periodic Table classification. It is colourless and is captured and used to create the ‘glow’ in fluorescent and neon lighting. Its reference in the title of Zena Elliott’s series of works is to the neon or fluorescent effect that some of the colours create, but more than that, it is an allusion to an intangible but very-present potency (mauri) imbued in her artistic strategy for these works. It is the voice of her tuupuna – ancestors.
These recent works speak with a distinctive Maaori visual vocabulary. The painted surface becomes a living space where images of hei tiki and koru reside. Like the voice of the kai-karanga, so too are these works that vibrate with life and breath.
Tihei mauri ora
Fluorescent pigment and paint was first discovered by the Californian brothers Bob and Joe Switzer in the 1930s. They had found a black light and began experimenting with chemical compounds in their parents’ pharmaceutical store. From here they discovered that they could stabilise the fluorescent compounds in shellac, which is how they made their very first experimental paint. Obviously they developed this further to create paints which were then used by make aircraft visible at night.
Today, thousands of miles away in Aotearoa, Zena Elliott’s work employs fluorescent paint for use during the day, without the need for black light used to re-emit the light it absorbs.
The brightness of the fluoro colours contrasting with wood and standard artist’s acrylic paint make the eyes see the fluorescent paint as advancing. The patterns take precedence at times and provide a cover for the real narrative that is in between.
Elliott’s connection to the whenua is not metropolitan but rural. Small town Te Teko (nick-named Texas) is her tuurangawaewae or home. Her kaumaatua are very interested in the work she has produced, and more importantly, they endorse it as a part of the continuum of the art forms of Ngaati Awa.
Earlier forays of Elliott’s into the use of ‘loud’ and fluorescent colour were part of her ongoing efforts to understand and translate the ethos of heavy metal, hip-hop and popular culture in general and its transposition into te ao Maaori – the Maaori world. Elliott has not been confined working towards a singularly Maaori aesthetic, rather it has been the other way around. Her earlier works were experimental in many ways that was not being explored so much by Maaori contemporary artists with exception of Matt Pine, Toi Te Rito Maihi, Hinerangitoariari Winifred Belcher, Elliott’s work was not overt in its ‘Maaoriness’. The fact that today this is more visible is much more to do with a natural progression towards her ancestors or tuupuna and how they have made themselves known to her work. These works may yet depart from any visual signs of Maaoritanga, but they will remain intrinsically Maaori.
By Leafa Wilson
Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato