Art New Zealand



Ko ratou, ko tatou—On otherness, us-ness

Northart, 22 May–12 June


 Ko ratou, ko tatou—On other-ness, usness, an exhibition that pays homage to the New Zealand Muslim community, was set to open on the anniversary of the Christchurch mosque shootings.

But then lockdown happened. When Northart reopened, I attended the show. The majority of artwork featured Islamic elements, depicted from the outside. The central perspective was overwhelmingly white and, rather than feeling represented, I felt othered.

The exhibition’s opening room displayed an earnest mishmash of otherness. Islamic subject matter was at the centre of Gavin Chilcott’s Pilgrimage to Mecca depicting the Ka’bah, a structure towards which all Muslims face when praying. Jeff Thomson’s Wake, a corrugated-iron water tank with jagged holes in the sides, powerfully explored the idea of containment and the residue that is left behind after a transformative event.

The work had been ‘recontextualised’ to fit the Islamic theme of the show, with the addition of Arabic letters painted inside. Peering in, all I could see was cultural appropriation. Ursula Christel’s New Space consisted of an upside-down table, intended as a metaphor for abolishing structural oppression but, for me, seemed misjudged in the context of this room.

Phil Dadson is an artist/musician associated with Islam via Sufism. His Conference of Stones was comforting and meditative. The sound and images washed away some of my discomfort. Watching this video, I wondered if this exhibition might have some self-awareness I was not detecting, whether it was all an elaborate prank intended to synthesise the familiar feeling people of colour have of being othered. Unfortunately, it was not.

The show had an air of white guilt and virtue signalling. Michelle Mayn created Fifty-one while meditating for 51 days on each of the victims of the Christchurch shootings, picking a Rumi quote to represent each day.

The self-indulgence of the piece was reflected in the gold colours and the beautiful, pillowy paper. A card holding each victim’s name was arranged into a fragile tower that could collapse at any moment, sitting atop bright red silky fabric, arranged to resemble flowing blood. This felt insanely inappropriate, and my urge to cry was from frustration not grief.

Java Bentley’s Auckland Flowers respected the earth in which the victims’ bodies are now buried. The new life sprouting from the compost heap acknowledged the passage of time and felt like minuscule strains of hope. In an unintentional performance piece, the front desk attendant sat reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and it felt hysterical. Was I in a parody?

Azadeh Emadi’s played in a loop with a video by the co-curator Sonja van Kerkhoff, a work from which the exhibition took its title I had a painful moment of catharsis viewing Emadi’s video. Ironically, she explored the notion of a stolen

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