VISITS TO ŌTAUTAHI THESE DAYS tend to provoke in me two strong and notionally opposed reactions: sorrow and hope. Inevitably there is a great sense of loss. All those historic buildings gone. The state of affairs seems especially unfair since Christchurch, among Aotearoa’s cities, has always seemed particularly interested in its own heritage. To be sure, the histories vaunted have often been colonial or white. Reviewing Tales Untold (1994), a city-wide art presentation that included well-known Lingard works composed of white Jockey underpants, Justin Paton referred to ‘Christchurch’s Anglophile surface’. (2) He did so while discussing a work by Cath Brown that drew attention to the scant visibility of Kāi Tahu in the city.
In 2021, the cultural landscape feels different, and rather more promising. The word ‘Ōtautahi’ is newly prominent. The central library is simply ‘Tūranga’. Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū boasts one of the most exciting and thoughtful programmes in Aotearoa, supporting local artists of note, in shows like Touching Sight: Conor Clarke, Emma Fitts, Oliver Perkins (2020–21), and developing surveys of national importance, such as Ralph Hotere: Ātete (to resist) (2021). In 2017, it presented Sydow: Tomorrow Never Knows, a retrospective of work by Carl Sydow (1940–75), who, like Lingard, died tragically young. The institution holds a good number of works by Lingard, and I tend to think it will mount a solo before long.
There might in fact be no place better than Ōtautahi to see to it that Lingard’s legacy is given greater prominence. The city is, and has been, home to numerous LGBTQ+ artists, including Paul Johns and Jane Zusters. In the early to mid-20th century, it was the centre for the influential art association the Group, and the wider leftist artistic circle that Peter Simpson has termed ‘Bloomsbury South’. That community encompassed such figures as Rita Angus, Lawrence Baigent, Leo Bensemann, Ursula Bethell, Charles Brasch, Allen Curnow, Douglas Lilburn, Douglas MacDiarmid, Olivia Spencer Bower, Bill Sutton, and Toss Woollaston—some patently not straight, some ‘allies,’ some with complicated tales that remain to be told with appropriate nuance.
The party line is that queer histories are often fragmented and difficult to piece together. Before the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986, there was suppression via criminalisation. Trauma and bigotry linger, even find new expression. Lingard received his share of crummy receptions in his own time. Works included in the forward-looking Art Now (1994) at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa attracted a range of negative responses. (3) However, as Jeremiah Boniface observes, the show’s curator, Christina Barton, stood by Lingard, writing, ‘His work speaks about the desire to conform and the pain when such conformity proves impossible.' (4)