Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tools of Navigation

It was a grey winter day when I visited the grounds of Parliament in Wellington earlier this year but that only accentuated the wonderful contrast between the bright green grass and this marvellous sculpture, "Kaiwhakatere - The Navigator" by Maori artist, Brett Graham.

Graham is one of New Zealand's most exciting sculptors, well known for his ability to engage in a "dual dialogue of Maori and European histories, at the same time adhering to the Modernist emphasis on form and material quality." Although not overtly Maori in their sculptural traditions, his works invariably draw on ancestral traditions and philosophies.

Although this work was only presented to the city in 2000, there's a lovely sense of the ancient about it - all those tightly packed granite cobblestones carrying the secrets and messages of another time. It's as if visitors from another world have left a strange and provoking souvenir of their visit among the shiny modern highrise.
The sculptures are based on the traditional tools of navigation - "Throughout Polynesia, the navigator is exalted as pathfinder and innovator for visionary qualities necessary for discerning leadershop," says Graham. The granite shapes represent a bird's head (manu), a waka (canoe) and a tuahu (altar). "The bird's head guides the traveller. It is a symbol of our inheritance in this land and of the future and the paths we may follow. The waka, or crescent moon shape symbolises a hopeful new beginning. The canoe suggests embarking on a journey, as did our ancestors, Maori and Pakeha. The tuahu, an altar of stones, built on arrival in a new land, suggests promises and challenges." (
Although stunning in its own right, I think the placement of this work is a major contributor to its power. It straddles the bright green hillocks of the parliament grounds confidently - like some ancient reminder to those in the 'halls of power' that soar above it, those 'navigating our future', that we are never far from our past.... no matter how much we would like to pretend otherwise.

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