Whaowhia 2007


Edmiston Trust Collection, Auckland Museum.

Brett Graham’s Whaowhia, two granite urns, one white and one black, stand sentinel at the south entrance of the Auckland Museum.

Whaowhia are essentially ‘storehouses of knowledge’ or ‘Pataka Matauranga’ and this sculpture reflects the Museum’s role as preserver and protector of the nation’s taonga.

On the surface of each urn are carved motifs, selected in consultation with museum staff to symbolise objects and collections held at the Museum. A candle represents the early Auckland trader John Smith; bird, plant and insect forms represent the important contribution the museum has made to science in New Zealand; the crosses and flame reflect and refer the memorial role of the Museum.

The horizontal lines on each urn suggest that the urns have been split and rebuilt. Brett Graham described them as a metaphor for the Polynesian renaissance, literal cultural reconstruction. The addition of layer upon layer of stone is also symbolic of the Museum’s Maori title ‘Paenga Hira’, referring to the Ngati Whatua practice of marking boundaries with basalt mounds, or of the piling of body upon body of those slain in battle.

The museum’s two functions, that of war memorial and a place of learning are acknowledged by the shaft of light emitting from each urn.

Brett GRAHAM b. 1967 Ngati Koroki Kahukura

Born in Auckland, Brett Graham’s work embraces Maori and other indigenous peoples’ histories and explores issues relating to the cultural inequities of past and present.

Awarded a Doctorate in Fine Arts, 2005, from the University of Auckland he has exhibited locally and internationally.

His work has been included in major exhibitions including the 2007 Venice Biennale; 15th Biennale of Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Asia Pacific Triennial, Queensland Art Gallery; Purangiaho Seeing Clearly, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki; Parihaka: The Art of Passive Resistance and the Telecom Prospect 2007, both held at City Gallery, Wellington.

He has undertaken several large scale public commissions including Kahukura Tjibaou Cultural Centre, New Caledonia; Kaiwhakatere situated behind Parliament Buildings, Wellington; Kowhatu Karohirohi, Victoria University Collection, Wellington; Escape, North Shore Court House, Auckland; Manu Tawhiowhio at AUT, Auckland.

Graham’s work is held in major public and private collections.

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