Blog Archives

Colonial orientalism, Paula Morris

Galleries of Maoriland: Artists, Collectors and the Māori World, 1880–1910 
Roger Blackley
Auckland University Press, $75.00,
ISBN 9781869409357

The cover image of Roger Blackley’s impressive new book is a famous one: a tea break in Charles Goldie’s frame-stacked studio in 1901, Pātara Te Tuhi holding cup and saucer, his trousers and dusty boots visible below the sweep of his woven cloak. Both men seem deep in thought. Goldie – starched collar, shiny boots – was just 30, recently returned from studies in Paris; he’d seen a number of Gottfried Lindauer’s Māori portraits at the 1898–99 Auckland exhibition and begun his own rise to national fame.

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Posted in Art, History, Non-fiction, Review

A singular genius, Andrew Wood

Colours of a Life: The Life and Times of Douglas MacDiarmid
Anna Cahill
Mary Egan Publishing, $80.00,
ISBN 9780473423834

Over the decades, New Zealand has lost a tragic amount of cultural talent overseas for many reasons: the old bashing machine drives them away, cultural cringe makes the appeal of Europe and North America irresistible, or politics, or unconventional sexuality. Some have gone on to become very famous indeed – Frances Hodgkins and Katherine Mansfield, for example. The phenomenon is even responsible for an entire genre of New Zealand literature, resulting in several novels and biographies and biographical sketches by James McNeish, and Martin Edmond’s excellent The Expatriates. Anna Cahill’s Colours of Life: The Life and Times of Douglas MacDiarmid is a wonderful addition to that body of work.

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction

Unpleasant truths, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins

Theo Schoon: A Biography
Damian Skinner
Massey University Press, $60.00,
ISBN 9780995100176

Hudson and Halls: The Food of Love
Joanne Drayton
Otago University Press, $50.00,
ISBN 9781988531267

There has long been an uneasiness on the part of local biographers when it comes to homosexual subjects. In literary terms, this can be traced to Michael King’s Frank Sargeson: A Life (1995), the first major biography of this type. King, then not yet a literary biographer, but a consummate researcher of Māori subject matter, demonstrated the standard Kiwi male’s distaste for homosexuality. The result was a tepid and unsatisfying work that has done Sargeson’s cultural longevity no favours. Without any active influential queer voice to argue the contrary, Sargeson entered the canon of modern biography, and King was lauded as the nation’s literary biographer.

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Posted in Art, Biography, Non-fiction, Review, Sociology

The light, fantastic toe, Jennifer Shennan

Limbs Dance Company – Dance for All People, 1977–1989 
Marianne Schultz
Marianne Schultz in conjunction with DANZ, $40.00
ISBN 9780473407698

This book about Limbs, New Zealand’s brightest modern dance troupe, in its heyday in 1980s Auckland, is dedicated “for Sue Paterson, a dear and true friend”. Sue was the long-term General Manager of the company. How poignant, then, to be reviewing this book in the same week that we have farewelled the lifelong visionary arts administrator, who died after a prolonged illness that devastated her body, but never extinguished her spirit. Quite like Limbs really. Schultz has told the company’s story well, setting it in the context of its times. History will thank her for that and we should, too.

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Posted in Art, Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

Reflecting on the now, Melissa Laing

Towards a History of the Contemporary: Gordon H Brown Lecture 16
Christina Barton
Art History, School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, $15.00,
ISBN 9771176588005

For the last 16 years, the art history department of Victoria University of Wellington has presented the annual Gordon H Brown Lecture. In the tradition of the discipline, the many eminent scholars of New Zealand art history have looked backwards at what artists have created and why this is historically significant. In some cases, this historicising has been used to reflect on the now – both art as it is practised at this moment, and society as we are shaped by it in the present. Christina Barton’s lecture “Towards a History of the Contemporary” reaches towards this end – an understanding of the contemporary as a cultural state with a specific historical context and trajectory.

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Posted in Art, Review

Plays and playmaking, Mark Houlahan

Performing Dramaturgy
Fiona Graham
Playmarket, $40.00,
ISBN 9780908607648

Floating Islanders: Pasifika Theatre in Aotearoa
Lisa Warrington and David O’Donnell
ISBN 9781988531076

Dawn Raids
Oscar Kightley
Playmarket, $18.00,
ISBN 97809080607631

“What is a dramaturg?” I overheard that question earlier this year while sitting in a theatre waiting for a show to begin. As it happened, this was a show which listed me in the programme as “dramaturg”, and the couple asking the question were reading my notes. So I quickly said to them, “script advisor”, and left them to get on with their pre-show reading. A few months later, I was reading Fiona Graham’s Performing Dramaturgy, which offers a much richer, contextualised series of answers to the question. It would be egregious to thrust her book into the hands of someone directly waiting for a performance to start, of course, but otherwise it can be safely recommended to a broad range of researchers, students and theatre practitioners. Graham herself prefers the alternative spelling “dramaturge”, because of its use to indicate “an expanded and interdisciplinary practice”, so I’ll use that form here.

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Posted in Art, Literature, Non-fiction, Pacific, Plays, Review

Entangled histories, Megan Dunn

Strangers Arrive: Emigrés and the Arts in New Zealand 1930-1980
Leonard Bell
Auckland University Press, $75.00,
ISBN 9781869408732

Did you realise that artist Theo Schoon, best known for his modernist photographs of rippling mud pools, also performed Balinese dance? Have you heard of the Prague-born architect Imric Porsolt, once the art critic for the Auckland Star, his writing so biting and insightful that Colin McCahon declared: “Before Mr Porsolt there was no art criticism in New Zealand”? And what of the smoking dame on the cover of Strangers Arrive: Emigrés and the Arts in New Zealand, 1930-1980, her right hand tilted just so, the smoke spooling in a plume by her lit profile; her stare snaps back at the photographer as if to say “Stranger to whom?”

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Posted in Art, Non-fiction, Review

Championing indigenous art histories, Stella Ramage

Colonial Gothic to Māori Renaissance: Essays in Memory of Jonathan Mane-Wheoki
Conal McCarthy and Mark Stocker (eds)
Victoria University Press, $80.00,
ISBN 9781776561094

The Gedenkschrift – essays by colleagues collected in posthumous commemoration of an esteemed academic – is an uncommon genre in Aotearoa New Zealand. Partly, this is due to its logistical demands: contributors must produce new work that chimes with the honouree’s research interests within a Goldilocks time-frame, when loss is fresh but not too raw. Museologist Conal McCarthy and curator Mark Stocker, with the help of a small army, have achieved this feat, launching a substantial book within three years of the death of renowned art historian, curator and public speaker, Jonathan Mane-Wheoki.

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Posted in Art, History, Māori, Non-fiction, Review

Art about sadness, Dylan Horrocks

Out of the Woods: A Journey Through Depression and Anxiety
Brent Williams (Korkut Öztekin illus)
Educational Resources, $40.00,
ISBN 9780473390068

American cartoonist Keiler Roberts, whose comics have eloquently documented her own struggles with mental illness, recently wondered on Facebook about the usefulness of her art: “I think some of the best books about depression aren’t necessarily helpful during the process,” she wrote. “Is there any art… about depression or grief that has been helpful to you?”

Brent Williams’s and Korkut Öztekin’s graphic novel Out of the Woods is a valiant attempt to answer Roberts’s question in the affirmative. A deliberate mixture of personal memoir and self-help guide, its primary purpose is therapeutic.

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Posted in Art, Memoir, Non-fiction, Review

Connecting kindred tribes, David Eggleton

Black Marks on the White Page
Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti (eds)
Penguin Random House, $40.00,
ISBN 9780143770299

Billed as a guidebook to the contemporary literature of Oceania, Black Marks on the White Page is not quite that; it’s too eclectic, too much of a hotchpotch for a start, sweeping erratically back and forth across the Pacific to locate, we are told, “the best new and uncollected fiction” generated out of the rolling identity revolution of Pasifika peoples in the 21st century. You could make a very long list of “the best” that is not included. What this anthology is is a sampling: it contains 29 examples of “story-telling” by 25 writers, complemented or contextualised by images of nine artworks by nine artists.

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Posted in Art, Literature, Māori, Non-fiction, Pacific, Short stories
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