Dramatic performance as Prime Minister opens Te Papa’s new art gallery, Toi Art

A dramatic and emotionally-charged performance from Auckland artist collective Pacific Sisters welcomed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern into the new art gallery at Te Papa known as Toi Art.

Wearing spectacular hand-crafted outfits that are works of art in their own right, the Pacific Sisters led the Prime Minister into the gallery, where artist Ani O’Neill presented her with two lei. O’Neill said the double lei represented the Prime Minister, and her baby.

The Prime Minister told the gathering of artists and the arts community that she looked forward to a time when artists did not need to justify the role they play in society.

“For the artists, for the arts community and those that work around you in that ecosystem… your work isn’t about building tolerance, because we are more than a tolerant society, we’re a society that should celebrate who we are, that should be open to challenge, that should be open to the questioning of our conscience that only happens sometimes through the lens of an artist,” Jacinda Ardern said.

She paid tribute to Te Papa Head of Art Charlotte Davy, saying, “I know you have put your heart and soul into this project, and I thank you for taking Te Papa to its next place, on behalf of New Zealand.”

The new $8.4 million art gallery known as Toi Art spans two levels of the museum. It is free to enter, and opens to the public from Saturday 17 March.

A spectacular new project by leading contemporary artist Michael Parekowhai, called Détour, features in the huge double-height entry gallery.

There are also two major retrospective shows, Pacific Sisters: Fashion Activists and Lisa Walker: I want to go to my bedroom but I can’t be bothered, and two exhibitions showcasing the national art collection, alongside nine new artworks and installations.

Beloved works from the national collection are on show, including paintings by C.F. Goldie, Gottfried Lindauer, Rita Angus, Ralph Hotere, Colin McCahon, Gordon Walters, and Robyn Kahukiwa.

Charlotte Davy, Te Papa Head of Art, says the new gallery offers new opportunities.

“Toi Art is a game changer for art in New Zealand, with the huge new spaces offering incredible opportunities to showcase art from Aotearoa, from the Pacific, and from the world,” Ms Davy says.

Exhibitions opening in Toi Art include:

  • Détour - a seminal new installation from Michael Parekowhai that challenges art conventions.

  • Pacific Sisters: Fashion Activists – a celebration of mana wāhine, indigenous identities, and the role this collective has played over the past 26 years. Ani O’Neil, Rosanna Raymond, Lisa Reihana, Suzanne Tamaki, Feeonaa Wall, Jaunnie ‘Ilolahia, Selina Haami and Henry Taripo.

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

  • Kaleidoscope: Abstract Aotearoa – an exploration of colour, shape and pattern in New Zealand and the Pacific, featuring a new immersive art work by Tiffany Singh.

  • Tūrangawaewae: Art and New Zealand – through Te Papa’s extensive collection of New Zealand painting, sculpture, and photography, explore questions of art, identity, and cross-cultural exchange.

Toi Art will also open with new works by contemporary artists from around the country – including Helen Calder, Lonnie Hutchison, Janet Lilo, Jeena Shin, Tiffany Singh, Ngataihauru Taepa, and Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi.

Artist Ani O’Neil leads Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern into Toi Art at Te Papa. Photograph by Kate Whitley. Te Papa