Original article published by Te Papa.

 

Tuesday 5 April 2022

In 2022, Te Papa and Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki will come together to jointly present a retrospective exhibition of contemporary Aotearoa artist Dame Robin White (b.1946, Ngāti Awa, Pāhekā).

Robin White: Te Whanaketanga | Something is Happening Here will open in June 2022 at Te Papa followed by Auckland Art Gallery in late-October 2022. The exhibition will feature more than 70 works from across White’s 50-year career.

Visitors in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Tāmaki Makaurau will not only explore her celebrated portraits and Aotearoa landscapes from the 1970s but also the ambitious collaborative works White has made with artists from across the Pacific and New Zealand in recent years.

White says the exhibition is somewhat of a ‘family reunion’ – bringing together works from galleries and living rooms across the country.

“None of the works have come from my studio, they have been out in the world engaging with people and people engaging with them. Each work brings to the exhibition stories that are known only to that work and the people with whom they have lived. There is a richness in that, it is way beyond me,” says White.

A project of national importance, Te Whanaketanga | Something is Happening Here builds on over a decade of research by art historian and writer Jill Trevelyan and the exhibition’s co-curators Dr Nina Tonga, Curator Contemporary Art at Te Papa, and Dr Sarah Farrar, Head of Curatorial and Learning at Auckland Art Gallery.

Dr Nina Tonga says the exhibition recognises a contemporary New Zealand artist whose imagery continues to shape the country’s national identity and a sense of place in Aotearoa and in the Pacific.

“With a prolific career spanning five decades she continues to create artworks that invite us into the world around her; the local fish and chip shop in Maketu, maneaba in Kiribati, or the intimate interior of a living room in Lautoka,” she says. “As an artist, she has sustained an energy and attitude for learning that we are celebrating in this exhibition.”

Dr Sarah Farrar notes the significance of White as an artist, creating some of the country’s most recognisable artworks and how this exhibition draws on the central role that relationships play – in the art works as well as the artistic process.

“Robin White’s works, increasingly made in collaboration with other artists, urge us to reflect on how we want to live together in the world today. This exhibition brings timely recognition, and scholarly attention, to one of Aotearoa’s foremost artists,” she says.

The exhibition is supported by an accompanying publication, Robin White: Something is Happening Here, jointly published by Te Papa Press and Auckland Art Gallery, due to be released in May 2022. Edited by Sarah Farrar, Jill Trevelyan, and Nina Tonga, the book includes fresh perspectives by 24 writers and interviewees from Australia, the Pacific, and Aotearoa New Zealand.

Te Whanaketanga | Something is Happening Here will be on show at Te Papa from 4 June – 18 September 2022, followed by Auckland Art Gallery from late-October 2022.

Key facts

  • The exhibition will feature more than 70 works from across White’s 50-year career. This includes 17 paintings and 35 individual prints.
  • Six collaborators.
  • 22 different lenders.
  • It’s been 54 years since Robin White’s first exhibition. Her first group show was in 1968, and her first one-person show was in 1970.

Biographies

Dr Nina Tonga is Curator Contemporary Art at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. She is from the villages of Vaini and Kolofo’ou in the Kingdom of Tonga and was born and raised in New Zealand.

Nina has been involved in a number of writing and curatorial projects in New Zealand and the wider Pacific and was Curator of the Honolulu Biennial 2019.

Her exhibitions include Home AKL (2012) at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Tonga i Onopooni (2014) at Pataka Art + Museum, and Tīvaevae: Out of the Glory Box (2015) and Pacific Sisters: Fashion Activists (2018-2019) at Te Papa.

Dr Sarah Farrar is a curator and writer based in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. She is currently the head of the curatorial department at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki where she is responsible for the curatorial, research library and archives, learning, and public programmes teams. Sarah‘s doctoral research examines strategies of curatorial activism in local and international art galleries and museums.

For 20 years, she has curated exhibitions and contributed to art publications, including books, catalogues, and journal articles, in Aotearoa, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, China, and the UK. Sarah’s research interests in the complexities and strengths of cross-cultural exchange and collaboration, along with her motivation to see senior women artists duly acknowledged, have drawn her to Robin White’s work.

Dame Robin White (born in Te Puke, 1946, Ngāti Awa and Pākehā) is one of New Zealand’s leading artists with an exhibition history that spans more than 50 years.

In 1967 White graduated from Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland where she was taught by Colin McCahon, whom she cites as an important early influence. After three years as an art teacher at Mana College in Porirua, White moved to the Otago Peninsula where she began working full-time as an artist. Her paintings and screenprints from this time include iconic images of rural and small-town New Zealand life with portraits of friends and family set in a landscape of hills and harbour.

Leaving New Zealand in 1981 to settle in Kiribati, White adapted to her radically different Pacific atoll environment, producing woodcut prints depicting island life in her village. After a fire in 1996 destroyed her house and studio White’s work took an exciting new collaborative direction when she began working with I-Kiribati weavers to produce a series of woven pandanus mats.

After returning to New Zealand in 1999, White has continued to work with Pacific artists, bringing together their different ideas and methods to create works that reflect the concept of unity in diversity that is central to the artists’ Bahá’í beliefs. These works have been shown in art galleries across New Zealand and overseas, including the recent Matisse Alive exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

In 2013 White was made a distinguished companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Auckland in 2012. She was named a laureate of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand in 2017.