Building research success – Professor Patricia Johnston

For Māori artists, as any other, recognition overseas can be vital. While sculptor Dr Brett Graham (Ngāti Korokī Kahukura) and audio-visual artist Rachael Rākena (Kāi Tahu, Ngā Puhi) had already built a strong following at home, their success at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 2007 was confirmation of Māori-inspired art’s international impact – and fulfilled a dream of exhibiting at a major world venue.

Their collaborative installation, Āniwaniwa, (named for rapids on the Waikato) depicts the town of Horahora, flooded in 1947 to make way for a new dam at Lake Karapiro. At Venice over 21,000 visitors lay on mattresses in a 700-year-old exhibition hall to view overhead sculptures housing projected video images and listen to sound components in an eerily powerful testament to a culture now under water.

Invited to exhibit by leading international curator, Robert Storr, who is Dean of the Yale School of Art, the duo had developed the work with Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga support, but had to raise funding for the exhibit themselves. The result was worth it. “Bellisimo”, wrote an Italian visitor. “Very cool”, said an American. “J’aime beaucoup le concept!” added a French visitor. “Ka mau te wehi” wrote one from Lower Hutt: providing a welcome “awesome!” from back home.

Wowing them in Venice: Dr Brett Graham and Rachael Rākena