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Published: 26 November 2022

By Andy Ross

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A visit to Christchurch Otautahi

The Waimakarere winds its way through the mountains.

Since arriving in New Zealand Aotearoa one event has loomed large on the horizon: a back to back rendition of hits from Joy Division and New Order musician, Peter Hook. 

For those of us who were around in the '80s and who followed British music, these bands were memorable and so, early on Wedensday morning we left Mawhera Greymouth and headed through the mountains to the Big City. The morning light in the mountains is beautiful - the photograph is of the Waimakarere River as it braids its way to the ocean through the dry, rain-shadowed valleys and plains on the other side of Kaa Tiritiri o te Moana/the Southern Alps. It is a privilege to drive through this beautiful landscape with no-one else is sight and we arrived early enough in the town to be able to get to the Christchurch Art Gallery as it opened. Te Puna o Waiwhetuu never fails to deliver. This time the gallery offered a new installation that uses harekeke (New Zealand flax) braids to tie together the skylights in the main foyer as well as new-to-us artists: Brett Graham and Jeffrey Harris.

Brett Graham's monumental works explore the history of Maori people - Tainui and Taranaki - during the colonial period, by using public memorials and the architecture associated with war to re-present a vision of that time. The photographs below are of two of the pieces and are accompanied by their explanations. (To view the images close-up simply click on each of them.)

Jeffrey Harris, self-taught artist, was mentored by both Michael Smither and Ralph Hotere, and this exhibition presents drawings and paintings including some from his time in Akaroa Harbour in the 1970s. The show is on until March 2023. 

Following this we went to another art show in The Physics Room. The Way Things Are by Brunelle Dias is a series of large, unstretched canvases tacked to the gallery walls, upon which are painted scenes from the artist's family photograph albums. Visit the gallery's page for the exhibition and click on the large image at the top to see all the works. 

Following this we visited Tagata Moana, a community not-for-profit established to support Pacific people living in Aortearoa. Here we met the rather wonderful Nina Oberg Humphries, co-founder of the organisation. Nina is of Cook Islands and Paakehaa heritage, and uses traditional art forms such as Tivaevae, dance and costume to explore identity and culture. It was a fascinating visit, inspired by The Last Kai which was recently shown in the gallery space at Tagata Moana. 

That night we had a meeting with a carpet manufacturing company that is using hemp and wool together to create composites that are strong enough to be used for consruction as well as textiles. The following day we visited the factory and enjoyed a walk around the machines including one that introduces textures into yarn by coiling threads in loops that are then steamed and set before being unravelled. Fascinating to see. There will be more about the meeting in a later blog.

As for the concert, the main reason for being in Otautahiu Christchurch? It was stupendous. Lots of energy and talent, songs from our younger days, and a full auditorium made for an amazing show that we will remember for a long time. To remind yourself of the band, have a listen on YouTube!