Uku Rere | Nga Kaihanga Uku and beyond

Whangarei Art Museum is the first venue to host this ground-breaking touring exhibition after a highly successful show at Pataka Art+Museum in partnership with Toi Maori.

Uku Rere features contemporary ceramics by the five principal members of Nga Kaihanga Uku: Baye Riddell, Manos Nathan, Colleen Urlich, Wi Taepa and Paerau Corneal. Both Colleen Urlich and Manos Nathan are from the Te Tai Tokerau region and this important exhibition is the first major survey of contemporary Maori ceramics and showcases the strength of Maori ceramic art in New Zealand’s contemporary art scene. The exhibition will be displayed in the Younghusband Gallery and accompanied by an extensive catalogue available at the art museum.

The exhibition will also feature Manos Nathan’s unique sculptural work Kaitiaki, which stands to welcome visitors at the Whangarei Art Museum’s entrance. This is his largest work to date and was commissioned in 2002 by the Whangarei Art Museum with assistance from Te Waka Toi – Creative NZ Arts Council. The artist chose the concept of ‘kaitiakitanga’ as the theme of the art work, portraying both welcome and guardianship.

The exhibition will coincide with Kokiri Putahi – the 7th International Gathering of Indigenous Artists, organised by Te Atinga the Contemporary Visual Arts committee of Toi Maori Aotearoa in which both Colleen Urlich and Manos Nathan are members of. Since the first gathering in 1995 the committee has worked to develop Maori contemporary art practice for both emerging and established artists working in a range of media, and next year the gathering will also coincide with the January 2014 Ngapuhi Festival in Kaikohe.

Uku Rere: Nga Kaihanga Uku & beyond is a twenty-seven year survey of contemporary ceramics by Baye Riddell, Manos Nathan, Colleen Waata Urlich, Wi Taepa and Paerau Corneal curated by Pataka Art + Museum. This major touring exhibition of over forty-five unique, hand-built ceramic artworks was developed in partnership with Toi Maori Aotearoa and sourced from public and private collections throughout New Zealand. The generous support of Creative New Zealand has made it possible for Pataka to tour the exhibition to seven venues nationally.

Uke Rere: Nga Kaihanga Uku illuminates the strength of the contemporary Maori ceramic movement in New Zealand. From Taepa’s chunky, rugged pots full of personality to the refined elegance of Nathan’s sculptural pots, the exhibition showcases the remarkable vitality and diversity of the individual practices of the five influential artists. Over the last twenty-five years these artists have redefined and expanded ceramic art – imbuing it with indigenous concepts and a deep commitment to Maori culture. Riddell’s work embraces both Maori and Christian beliefs, while Nathan’s work is influenced by his father’s Maori identity and his mother’s Greek culture. Taepa combines innovative design with ancient Maori and Polynesian forms while Waata-Urlich draws on the traditions of ancient Pacific Lapita pottery. Both Waata-Urlich and Corneal are inspired by the powerful female figures, Mana wahine, in Maori creation stories.

The five artists are connected by their membership of Nga Kaihanga Uku, the national Maori clayworkers’ association co-founded in 1986 by Riddell and Nathan. The artists came together with the shared idea of making artworks in clay anchored in kaupapa Maori.  Since then the organisation has developed a co-operative style of working and has provided a strong, nurturing environment for sharing knowledge and skills. While each artist has created a very distinct body of work, they continue to meet regularly, exhibit together and support each other’s work. Further, all five artists have engaged in significant cultural exchanges with international indigenous artists working in clay – an experience that has enriched their work.