Ōku Kōwhiri – My Choice: Frances Stachl / autumn 2024
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Ōku Kōwhiri – My Choice: Frances Stachl / autumn 2024

This is the first Ōku Kōwhiri – My Choice we’ve had for a while and we’re pleased that local maker Frances Stachl (Ngāpuhi) has taken up the mantle for this autumn edition. In this online exhibition series a member of our community is invited to browse our online collection and select six of their favourite artworks. We thank Frances for her thoughtful selection of works and for also opening up a conversation that raises important questions of what the collection contains historically and what we want it to become in the future.

Autumn 2024: Frances Stachl

The Sarjeant collection comprises over 8,300 items. Of that 8,300 an estimate is that less than 550 of the items are by Māori makers, see a breakdown of these figures below.[i] This isn’t definitive – not everyone declares, or should be required to declare, their iwi/hapu affiliation. Although the gallery may be working on this, iwi/hapu affiliation does not previously appear to have been considered by the institution as a way of recording acquisitions.

Trying to prioritise six works from a slim selection is intimidating. As a Māori maker, I feel accountable to other Māori for any choices I make. If I choose not to do it because it is ‘too hard’, then I have a sense that I am not honouring ringatoi Māori who have work in the collection. If the collection of Māori works was larger, choosing would be a different process. Instead, what I am confronted with is a sense of absence. It drives home how little emphasis has been given to Māori visual culture[ii] within the parameters of the collection policy.

I have chosen works from ringatoi Māori that resonate with me. I think whakapapa informs how we see things, and the wāhine in my whānau have been/are influential in shaping my own ideas as a maker. As a Māori viewer I am looking for connections, be they direct whakapapa or whakapapa in a broader sense of the word. Both my mother, Gabrielle Belz, and my sister, Erna/Ani Stachl, have works I love in the collection. I would strongly advocate accessing these and other Māori works via the collection.

See Frances’ selections on our Explore the Collection ‘My Choice Exhibition Series’ highlight HERE and below:

[i] The Sarjeant states on its website that the gallery ‘holds a collection of more than 8,000 items of national and international significance, spanning four centuries of European and New Zealand art history.’ This collection is made up of artworks (around 6240 items) and archival material (remainder). Based on the total number of items (8300) and the 547 items by known Māori makers, this means 6.59% of the whole collection is by Māori makers/producers. If I calculate the percentage from the items designated as ‘artworks’ (6240) this means 8.76% of the artwork in the collection is by Māori makers/producers. This percentage could arguably be altered by only looking at works by ‘New Zealand artists’ (5187) raising the percentage of Māori makers to 10.5%. Tangata Whenua make up 17.3% (904,100) of the total population of Aotearoa (Stats NZ, as at June 2023). Regardless of which figure one uses, a Māori representation of 8.76% and 10.5% is not in line with the current population. It is also currently unclear how many of the artists in the Māori collection are Mana Whenua to Whanganui.
[ii]  I’m using the term ‘Visual culture’ rather than ‘art’ (which is culturally bounded and limiting) as proposed by Robert Jahnke in ‘Māori Visual culture on the run’ (2006).

Frances’ Choices:

Jacqueline Fraser The Deification of Mihi Waka 1995, (1995/7/1)

“I really enjoy the spontaneous appearance of these works while also noting that the construction is careful and considered. The plastic-coated copper wire makes me think about electrical or telephone cables and the possibility of carrying electric currents/energy, communicating. Rangihiroa Panoho describes Fraser’s work as being ‘specifically regional, anecdotal and at times ancestral’. He also discusses her installation work referencing the architectural form of the Whare and the whakairo and raranga held within. I love the idea of Fraser creating a whare within a gallery, making a Māori space within an institution.”

Maiangi Waitai Natural Machine 1999 (1999/12/2)

“There are two works by Maiangi Waitai in the collection and choosing one was difficult. Both could be seen as a path to the artist’s current work. Waitai’s work feels unique and instantly identifiable as her own. The work is accessible, in a way that strikes me as generous and inviting. The anthropomorphic structure of ‘Natural Machine’ makes me think of Waitai’s more recent work ‘Atea-ā-Rangi-Interstellar’ (shown at the Dowse in 2019). This installation is a vibrant, celebratory, re-imagining of the oral history traditions relating to the Matariki constellation.”

Chris Bryant-Toi Whenua ki te Whenua: Earth Bound 2000 (2001/35/1)  

“I chose this work partly because I have never met a Chris Bryant-Toi work I didn’t like, and also for the title. I love how layered this work is, referencing traditions of burying whenua in the land (where possible in land with whakapapa/ancestral connections.) The kupu for placenta and land are the same, we come from the land, and we return to it.”

Alexis Neal Waharua III 2013-2014 (2017/18/1)

“Every time I see Alexis Neal’s whāriki works I am struck by the detail and evident patience and skill of her work. Neal’s whāriki feel like an example of that indigenous super-power to take a non-traditional material and transform it into an object/image that speaks calmly and powerfully about our traditions and mātauranga. Alexis Neal recently exhibited ‘Whaka-aho’ with Peata Larkin at Toi Tauranga Art gallery which further expands on this work with whāriki.”

Colleen Maria Lenihan Maiangi 1997 (1998/6/5)

“Both the selection of photographs in the collection and Lenihan’s 2022 book of interconnected short stories, Kōhine, make me think of concepts of time within te ao Māori. The present cannot be understood without considering the past. Our understanding of ‘the present’ and ‘the future’ is informed by an ability to acknowledge the past. The kupu for ‘past’ in te reo Māori is ‘mua’ (in front/before/ahead) while the kupu for ‘future’ is muri (behind, at the rear of, after, afterwards, the time after,) the past and future are not separate, but part of a whole.”

Cecelia Kumeroa Short-term peace treaty, long term injustice 1995 (1996/16/1)

“I chose this work because I love Kumeroa’s animated works. Although the medium is different, for me, the connection between this earlier work and the artist’s current work is the layered quality of the image in a metaphorical and literal sense. The strength and conviction of an indigenous perspective is apparent in both the earlier and current animated works (sometimes in collaboration with Dr. Billy van Uitregt) and both draw the viewer in for closer observation.”

Current Exhibitions