Toi Art revealed: New gallery opens in March with Pacific Sisters, Lisa Walker, and Tiffany Singh

Fierce Pacific fashion, jewellery made out of skateboards and cellphones, a flood of colour, and a place to stand – four exhibitions to feature in our new art gallery, opening March 2018, have been revealed.

With free entry and spanning two floors, Toi Art will feature two major retrospective shows by influential New Zealand artists: the Pacific Sisters, an artist collective working across fashion, performance, music, and film; and Lisa Walker, world-renowned contemporary jeweller.

Also opening will be abstract art exhibition Kaleidoscope: Abstract Aotearoa, an exploration of colour, shape, and pattern in the Pacific, with a must-see immersive new artwork by Auckland-based contemporary artist Tiffany Singh.

The fourth exhibition, drawn from Te Papa’s extensive art collection, Tūrangawaewae: Art and New Zealand, questions ideas of belonging in Aotearoa, and offers different visions of how art might help us find a place to stand.

Charlotte Davy, Head of Art at Te Papa, says the new gallery will be a celebration of New Zealand identities, explored through both new art works and the lens of the national art collection.

“We’re balancing an in-depth examination of influential artists and new art, with the diversity of the national art collection,” says Ms Davy.

“The exhibitions together give a sense of what New Zealand art is, and how it fits within the Pacific.”

“There’ll be performance, dance, fashion, film, music, large-scale and new immersive works on show, which is now made possible by the size of the new gallery spaces.”

“We’ve been working with artists and using the opportunity to create new art commissions and site-specific works for the gallery, which is really exciting.”

Pacific Sisters, Ani O'Neill, Niwhai Tupaea, Rosanna Raymond, Suzanne Tamaki, 21st Sentry Cyber Sister, 1997, New Zealand. Te Papa

‘A show of Pacific proportions’

Pacific Sisters: Fashion Activists is a celebration of mana wāhine, indigenous identities, and the role this influential collective has played over the past 26 years in giving voice and visibility to Māori and Pacific peoples in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Working collaboratively across fashion, performance, music and film, the Pacific Sisters include ground-breaking artists Lisa Reihana (New Zealand’s entrant in this year’s Venice Biennale), Rosanna Raymond, Ani O’Neill, Suzanne Tamaki, Selina Haami, Niwhai Tupaea, Henzart @ Henry Ah-Foo Taripo, Feeonaa Wall, and Jaunnie ‘Ilolahia.

Nina Tonga, Curator of Pacific Art at Te Papa, says that it’s not a story everyone will know, even though the artists themselves have significant national profiles.

“The Pacific Sisters once described themselves as being like the Polynesian version of Andy Warhol’s factory – an ever-evolving collective of artists coming together to create art, music, fashion and film.”

“This is their first big retrospective, and it’s a show of Pacific proportions for sure,” says Ms Tonga.

Ani O’Neill, Pacific Sister and celebrated artist, says the retrospective is a chance to share their story with the world.

“For me, Pacific Sisters is a safe space to push boundaries,” she said. “We might seem a bit hardcore and serious to some, but we have a lot of fun – we like to laugh and play with words as well as frocks.”

Lisa Walker, ‘Pendant’, plastic, lacquer, thread. 2010. On loan from Lisa Walker

‘We don't have to be well-behaved’

I want to go to my bedroom but I can’t be bothered charts the 30-year evolution of world-renowned New Zealand jeweller, Lisa Walker.

From the 1980s to today, Walker has challenged conventional expectations of what jewellery is: “Just because it’s jewellery doesn’t mean we have to clam up and be well-behaved,” says Ms Walker.

Justine Olsen, Curator of Decorative Art and Design at Te Papa, says an extraordinary range of Lisa Walker’s works will be on display – made from materials including copper, pearls, and pounamu, to found objects like LEGO, cell phones, and egg beaters.

“Her work is constantly surprising,” says Ms Olsen. “Lisa Walker mines contemporary culture, fashion, art, and politics. I think of her as a contemporary archaeologist – you can see the concerns of each moment in time in her work.”

Reuben Paterson, Te Pūtahitanga ō Rehua, 2005 (still), digital video. Gift of the artist, 2011. Te Papa (2011-0015-1)

‘We live in a world of images’

Abstract art is often presented as a 20th-century European invention, but Kaleidoscope turns that on its head and celebrates how the exploration of shape, colour, and pattern have captured our imaginations in the Pacific.

With toi whakairo by Anaha Te Rahui and an enormous Fijian masi, alongside works by contemporary artists like Reuben Paterson and Richard Killeen, the exhibition offers four ways to think about and experience abstract art in New Zealand.

Sarah Farrar, Senior Art Curator at Te Papa says the exhibition focuses on leading New Zealand and Pacific artists and the ways they navigate and use abstraction for their own means in their work.

“We’re exploring what abstract art means here and now,” she says. “We live in a world of images – with the rise of Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube – images are part of how we make sense of the world.”

“Abstract art helps us learn to decode, understand and analyse these images.”

At the heart of Kaleidoscope is a must-see new commission by contemporary artist Tiffany Singh.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to make a work of this nature at this scale,” says Ms Singh. “It will be an immersive sensory experience, where people can interact with and inform the artwork. It will become reflective of our wellbeing at a particular moment in time.”

Robyn Kahukiwa, Ko wai au? (Who am I?), 1979, oil on canvas. Te Papa (1997-0020-1)

‘It's who we are’

Tūrangawaewae are the places, communities, and ideas that give us a sense of belonging. Drawn from Te Papa’s extensive collection of New Zealand painting, sculpture, and photography, Tūrangawaewae: Art and New Zealand explores questions of art, identity, and cross-cultural exchange.

With works by Rita Angus, Colin McCahon, Shane Cotton, Gottfried Lindauer, Len Lye, and Robyn Kahukiwa and many other iconic New Zealand artists, Ms Farrar says the exhibition explores markers of identity in Aotearoa.

“It’s about who we are, and where we’ve come from – as individuals, as New Zealanders, and as a nation,” she says. “Tūrangawaewae spans historical portraiture to contemporary practice, with art works that inspire and provoke, question, and console.”

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