Blog Archives

A most “vigorous afterlife”, Roger Blackley

Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand: The  Māori Portraits
Ngahiraka Mason and Zara Stanhope (eds)
Auckland University Press and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, $75.00,
ISBN 9781869408565

This extremely elegant book, with its unusual, tall-and-thin “hyper-portrait” format, brings the artist Gottfried Lindauer and the principal collection of his works into the 21st century. It achieves this by foregrounding Māori perspectives, by emphasising Lindauer’s involvement with photography, and through the diverse range of scholarly perspectives by which the collection is explored. With contributions from Czech and New Zealand art historians, curators and conservators – both Māori and Pākehā – the book is a scholarly triumph for the Auckland Art Gallery.

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Posted in Art, Maori, Non-fiction and Review

The unnerving detritus of what was, Jane Westaway

The Shops
Steve Braunias and Peter Black (photographer)
Luncheon Sausage Books, $40.00,
ISBN 9780908689941

Once upon a time, I met people who owned a shop. I was young and impressionable and, on my first visit, was dazzled by a window display of ladies’ and gents’ watches, silverware and jewellery. The door pinged when you pushed it. Once inside, glass shelves and counters gleamed with promise, and the watchmaker’s wife stood behind the counter. It was a small place in a small town, but I was thrilled, not so much by what these people were offering for sale, as by the concept of shop-keeping itself.

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Posted in Essays, Non-fiction and Review

A continuum of community, Chris Bourke

New Zealand Jazz Life
Norman Meehan (Tony Whincup photographer)
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN  9781776560929

In the 1984 “mockumentary” This is Spinal Tap, the fictional rock band was positive about its declining fan base. “We are more selective about our audience,” reasoned one musician. As singer Malcolm McNeill points out in Norman Meehan’s stimulating examination of the contemporary jazz scene, in New Zealand the popularity of the genre is on a par with opera: it is supported by about three per cent of the population. McNeill also mentions that the funding it receives compared to classical music is disproportionately low, and a recent study quoted by Meehan confirms this.

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Posted in Music, Non-fiction and Review

Protect, promote, and attract an audience, Wayne Hope

Māori Television: The First Ten Years
Jo Smith
Auckland University Press, $45.00,
ISBN 9781869408572

The birth of the Māori Television Service in March 2004 coincided with nationwide protests against the Labour government’s plan to entrench, legislatively, Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed (in response to a Court of Appeal decision legitimising prospective claims based on Native Title). A 13-day hikoi beginning in Northland arrived in Wellington on May 5. Over the same period, Tariana Turia announced that she would oppose the legislation and resign her ministerial portfolio. The formation of the Māori Party two months later appeared to signal a political resurgence of the pan-Māori Te Tino Rangatiratanga principles which had been advanced through the language and land rights struggles of the 1970s and 1980s, and by the Mana Motuhake Party in the 1990s. In this context, the establishment of a Māori Television Network was an historic accomplishment. The New Zealand “colony-to-nation” myth, which had informed mass-mediated constructions of national identity, could now be openly contested. Māori journalists, broadcasters, and programme-makers could foreground and develop their own cultural knowledges in contradistinction to assumed monoculturalism.

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Posted in Maori, Media, Non-fiction and Review

Turning a blind eye, Rae Varcoe

Doctors in Denial: The Forgotten Women in the “Unfortunate Experiment”
Ronald W Jones
Otago University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947522438

My first acquaintance with National Women’s Hospital was as a final-year medical student in 1968. It was an unpleasant experience of an utterly alien culture, disturbingly hostile to women in general, with women medical students being no exception. Just how indifferent the hospital medical profession was to the wellbeing of those in its care did not become publicly apparent until the publication of Sandra Coney’s and Phillida Bunkle’s Metro piece “Unfortunate Experiment at National Women’s” in 1987, which led to the Cartwright enquiry the following year.

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Posted in Health, Non-fiction and Review

Fake news, bad news, old news, Gyles Beckford

Don’t Dream It’s Over:  Reimagining Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand
Emma Johnson, Giovanni Tiso, Sarah Illingworth and Barnaby Bennett (eds)
Freerange Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780473364946

I’m a dead man working.

My family tells me, my colleagues and competitors tell me, my friends tell me: end of career, old technology dinosaur, attached to printed and spoken words. All past, no future. This collection of essays, interviews, and homilies tells me so often in its more than 350 pages.

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Posted in Media, Non-fiction and Review

Making friends with Mansfield, Ashlee Nelson

Mansfield and Me: A Graphic Memoir
Sarah Laing
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776560691

The graphic form is in some ways a more complex undertaking than straightforward prose, for a graphic text must concern itself not only with the words of the narrative, but the art. Even more than this, the words and the art in a good graphic work should add to the meaning of the text by the way the two work skilfully together. In Mansfield and Me: A Graphic Memoir, both the words and the art belong to Sarah Laing. Laing is a writer, a cartoonist, and a graphic designer by trade and she has applied her skills to each in a uniquely beautiful way. Nor is this the only synthesis accomplished by the book: Mansfield and Me is both a biography, of sorts, of Mansfield, and an autobiographical narrative.

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

The scars remain; the story must be told,  Helena Wiśniewska Brow

Budapest Girl: An Immigrant Confronts the Past
Panni Palásti
Matai River Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780473343712

“Who wants to talk about the past anymore? And who wants to hear?” It’s a challenge to the author from a former Budapest schoolmate, one that haunts this memoir’s final pages. For Panni Palásti, though, it’s no deterrent; her friend’s reaction shows only the new cultural disconnect between them. “Vali’s 1944,” she writes, “is different from mine.”

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Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

Wrenching love, Harry Ricketts

Boundaries: People and Places of Central Otago
Brian Turner (Steve Calveley photographer)
Godwit, $45.00,
ISBN 9781775538318

Early in this composite prose-poetry miscellany about Central Otago, Brian Turner quotes with approval from the English poet Edward Thomas’s “The Mountain Chapel”: “When gods were young / This wind was old.” Which is apt, as Turner could be seen as a kind of local literary descendant of Thomas. (Thomas died from a bomb-blast at Arras on Easter Monday exactly a hundred years ago.) Both are born-again countrymen, chroniclers and champions of vanishing rural worlds. Both have a powerful “retrospectroscope”, as Turner calls it, through which to stare at past and present. Their poems offer a tough celebration of the natural world and its processes, also a downbeat, dented lyricism. Both are blessed, or plagued, by an honesty others sometimes find awkward. Such analogies can be pushed too far, but this one helps to pinpoint something of what makes Turner so distinctive a voice and presence among contemporary New Zealand writers.

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Posted in Non-fiction and Review

Cartoonist with bite, Dinah Priestley

Murdoch: The Cartoons of Sharon Murdoch
Sharon Murdoch (with commentary by Melinda Johnston)
Potton and Burton, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947503239

Anne Tolley crouches watchfully inside a beneficiary’s uterus, high heels digging into the soft pink flesh, her two fists blocking the fallopian tubes. The cartoon is startling, funny and elegant. Labelled “Reproductive Politics”, it illustrates the Health Minister’s remark that she wanted to find ways to stop “at risk” beneficiaries having more children. I used to believe that most of us women do not have the bite to be successful editorial cartoonists. But I was wrong. The editorial cartoons of Sharon Murdoch have plenty of bite and anger, which she manages to combine with elegance and subtlety. In seven years, Murdoch has gone from being the cartoonist of her popular crossword cat Munro to being represented as editorial cartoonist in major New Zealand papers, notably the Press, Dominion Post, Waikato Times and Sunday Star Times.

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Posted in Media, Non-fiction, Review and Sociology
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