Hastings Art Gallery won the Exhibition Excellence for Art award with the stunning show #keeponkimiora in collaboration with the Kimi Ora School community and visiting artist Edith Amituanai; while MTG came away with the Exhibition Excellence for Taonga Māori award with He Manu Tīoriori: 100 Years of Kahungunu Music, alongside special mentions for Tūturu, by Iwi Toi Kahungunu and Te Taenga Mai o Salome by visiting artist Yuki Kihara. 

Oh yes, Hawke’s Bay was the talk of the night!

Prompting a recurring question at the awards night: What are we doing so well in Hawke’s Bay to become nationally recognised disproportionately to other regions? A good question for honest reflection. 

Really, what are we doing well? The answer is simple … we are being effective storytellers. We are telling our own local stories while opening windows to communities that are removed from mainstream consciousness, hidden behind a veil of intergenerational prejudices that have closed eyes to the creativity and history of our local Polynesian cultures.

Quietly and respectfully, exhibition interpretation is transcending cultural barriers and generating creative exchanges between artists and audiences across multiple genres simultaneaously, a feat rarely achieved by galleries, let alone a region. I’m often asked by our local GLAM people how they can bring Polynesia closer to their institutions. But our winning examples suggest it’s the sector that needs to get closer to the people, not vice-versa. 

For once it feels like Hastings and Napier are artistically and culturally on the same page and we haven’t seemed to have realised it. 

#keeponkimiora gives a current-day view of Flaxmere’s communities, where the children are both artist and subject of the camera lens with encouragement from the kind and nurturing Amituanai. 

I reckon most Hawke’s Bay people proactively avoid Flaxmere, yet here is an intimate glimpse, without the typical ‘deficit position’ that artists prefer to take. It is more challenging to interpret the positive, and this is what Amituanai has achieved – overwhelming positivity and pride. The exhibition is its own storyboard where text is not required, and the narrative can be seen when looking into the eyes of the children photographed. Words would be inappropriate for their story.

He Manu Tīoriori is modern Māori social history and takes a deep dive into the endemic talent of Ngāti Kahungunu as natural performers and composers. Story telling is strong in text, however is easy reading alongside the many recordings of past artists, bands and kapa haka groups. Is this really Māori music? Did our people really perform this way? 

The answer is Yes! We were strong instrumentalists, chorists, soloists, pioneers of cultural development and perpetual upsetters of traditional forms. One cannot dissect this genealogy of talent without reaching the conclusion that the marae was and remains the centre of the Māori world where the seeds of our talent and creativity have been sown.

Both of these shows deserve their respective awards and demonstrate Hawke’s Bay can be a leader in cross-cultural interpretation, education and appreciation. If we continue to create little view shafts into our cultural worlds through quality exhibitions such as these, we continue to foster an appreciation for each other. 

There are many more stories to tell and we’ve hidden them for too long. While these awards attest to our capacity to tell genuine, interesting and positive narratives, I look forward to the point where we can truly tell a multi-cultural story in one space. 

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