In 2021 Cora-Allan ((Ngāpuhi, Ngātitumutumu, Niue; Alofi, Liku) was selected for the Parehuia residency, in Titirangi, Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, hosted by the McCahon House Trust. Realising the residency was within a few minutes walk from the beach, she bought a small dinghy (after finding out Colin McCahon also had a dinghy) and moved her studio out to sea. The experience led to an important change in her work, shifting her position and process of making from the whenua to the moana.
Since the residency, Cora-Allan has traversed different bodies of water throughout Aotearoa and created a process to document each place. Firstly, she finds a boat (any boat) and then sketches vigorously during her time on the water. Secondly, she sets up her studio with a fresh palette of whenua paint and uses her sketches to guide each new painting. With the colours shifting during different states of being wet and dry (appearing darker when wet), the finished paintings are always a surprise to the artist.
This new direction in Cora-Allan’s work has introduced narratives from Pacific navigation and the period of first encounters between Māori and Pākehā. She began further research into the roles of artists and botanists on board the Endeavour during its maiden voyage in 1769, people who collectively created a perspective of Aotearoa that forever changed its place in history. She also developed her knowledge about Tupaia, the Tahitian navigator on board the Endeavour. Tupaia was an important figure, with his Tahitian language similar enough to te reo Māori to allow him to act as an intermediary between European explorers and tangata whenua during this first encounter period. During her own journeys by boat, Cora-Allan began to wonder about how Tupaia might have felt crossing the moana on a different boat, with different people for the first time in his life. Although he knew the Pacific Ocean well, his expertise in navigation by stars, sun and ocean currents was not taken seriously by sailors used to following Western maps and charts.
These small trips led to the idea for Encountering Aotearoa, as Cora-Allan began wondering what a longer journey around the coastline of Aotearoa from South to North consecutively might look like. With the role of the artist and botanist in mind, she set out on a journey to paint the changing shapes and views of the whenua of Aotearoa from the perspective of the moana. Through research she found Heritage Expeditions, a company based in Ōtautahi Christchurch that delivered a journey by sea that visited Endeavour-focused heritage sites.
With her vessel selected, Cora-Allan asked her pāpā to accompany her on the journey as an assistant, which was something Tupaia had done with a young family member Taiata, on board the Endeavour. As an observer to her experiences, her pāpā recorded each day through handwritten notes and pictures. These included his reflections of their daily encounters, which give an overview of the busy days of the journey. These personal interactions of father and daughter are captured on film by Emily Parr, who accompanied them on the trip, creating two moving-image works that sit alongside this exhibition.
In some of this documentation Cora-Allan is seen working on hiapo landscape paintings in their small cabin onboard. Parts of the hiapo used were soaked in different wai moana during the trip. With a small hiapo toolkit on board and whenua in jars, she created a hiapo whenua-scape each day to document the mauri of each space while they were within it. This is reflected in her different methods of archiving, which draw upon her capacity to record without taking from the whenua.
Enountering Aotearoa brings this two-week journey together with Cora-Allan’s wider artistic practice, and the ideas, forms, and techniques that she has been developing over recent years. Her works encapsulate the two-week journey taken by boat, combining established themes with new ideas, and highlighting her knowledge of traditional materials such as hiapo and whenua pigment. In this, the exhibition creates a space where the artist’s Niuean and Māori cultures meet in Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa.