Thursday, November 05, 2020

Dark enlightenment

She's probably got bigger things to worry about right now, but I've queried the suddenly notorious Olivia Pierson's understanding of the Enlightenment in this twitter thread

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Weka Pass

Last week I tramped to Weka Pass Cave, where people made art with charcoal and ochre five hundred or more years ago. Now I wonder: was that iron fence by the cave's limestone overhang intended to keep humans out, or to keep the painted cryptids - writhing eel-birds, lizard-dogs, dancing insect-men - in? When I close my eyes creatures surface, through the blackness.

Caves like this are not only sacred to Maori. Generations of Pakeha artists travelled here, to learn what could not be learned in the polite galleries of tight little colonial towns. I could sense Tony Fomison and Theo Schoon, as I squatted beside the cave mouth. Both men were possessed by these caves, and this art: both spent years in these limestone galleries.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Warriors in wood


I've written about the syncretic and subversive sculpture of Whare Joseph Thompson for EyeContact

Monday, September 07, 2020

The old gods

Some conservative older Pakeha are complaining about Labour's promise to make Matariki, or Maori New Year, a public holiday. They say Matariki was never part of their childhoods in the '60s or '70s. That's not surprising. Matariki is a Polynesian religious celebration, & indigenous religion was outlawed in New Zealand between 1907 & 1962 by the Tohunga Suppression Act. Tohunga, the priests of Maori religion, were fined or jailed. Whare wananga, where knowledge was passed between generations, went underground. Matariki celebrations would have been unthinkable in mainstream New Zealand society. By making Matariki a public holiday now, New Zealand can make some restitution for the repression of the ancient religion of these islands.

Matariki is a Maori celebration, but it has parallels in many other Polynesian societies. In Hawai'i, for example, the festival Matahiki sees tributes to the god of fertility Lono, cousin of Aotearoa's Rongo. By making Matariki a holiday, New Zealand can remember ancient Pacific connections.
In many parts of the Pacific, Christian indigenous spiritual beliefs and practices are still repressed. My friend the Tongan artist Visesio Siasau, for example, endures abuse & discrimination because he rejects Christianity & follows his country's ancient gods. In Tahiti, the self-proclaimed 'pagan' Moana'ura Walker has overcome a history of Catholic authoitarianism and established a thriving indigenous temple. By making Matariki a holiday, New Zealand will send a message of support to Siasau and to activists in other Pacific nations suffering from Christian oppression.

Friday, September 04, 2020



Many critics say that Rothko is outdated, irrelevant, that his blocks of layered colours & mystical ambitions represent a cul de sac in art history. What do they know? On the walls of the industrial belt of West Auckland Rothko's influence is immediately apparent.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

A wormhole

Aucklanders may not be able to move far in space, but the realm of time is still open. A wormhole took me back to 1887. I wrote about the journey for EyeContact.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Lockdown reading

When I was ten years old Khmer refugees arrived at my school, & my parents took me to see The Killing Fields at St James cinema. Since then I've been fascinated by Pol Pot & the Khmer Rouge; there is something about evil that is compelling as well as repulsive. I've been rereading Philip Short's massive, disturbing, and brilliant biography of Pol. 

I think that the quiet of lockdown Auckland must have subconsciously reminded me of footage of the empty city of Phnom Penh in the years after the Khmer Rouge marched two and a half million urbanites into the countryside. Short shows how the Khmer Rouge appropriated Theravada Buddhist as much as Marxist ideas. He reproduces this photo of Khieu Samphan, Pol Pot's future lieutenant, dancing in Paris in 1955, at a celebration of the Buddha's 2,500th birthday.