Hei Wai Ngunguru weaves history and storytelling to delve into the challenges of cultural leadership, spiritual traditions and gender values in 19th-century New Zealand.
Lisa Reihana MNZM, skillfully merges meticulous research and primary sources with reimagined narratives, shedding light on the rich culture and history of the Māori and Pacific Islander communities. Employing a diverse range of artistic mediums, such as performance art, photography, installation pieces, as well as video and animation, Reihana constructs immersive cinematic tableaus. Her recent endeavors portray the historical encounters between colonial powers and the South Pacific as an ongoing web of entanglements between European settlers and indigenous peoples, with far-reaching implications that persist to this day.
Reihana's captivating installation, Hei Wai Ngunguru - Nomads of the Sea (2019), interweaves fact and fiction to explore the complex social dynamics of 19th century New Zealand. Through the character of Storyteller, an enigmatic figure that fluidly shifts between masculine and feminine voices, viewers are introduced to Charlotte Badger, a Pakeha settler woman who defies societal norms through her mutinous actions, and Puhi, a proud wahine descendant of the Ngā Puhi tribe, whose jealousy is stirred by Charlotte's rising influence.
In the early encounters of Pakeha settlement, when intermarriage, trade, and the acquisition of firearms were perceived as crucial for Māori survival, Māori Chief Huri Waka extends his protection to the fugitive Charlotte within his tribal lands, disrupting the traditional roles of women in Aotearoa as matriarchs, landowners, and spiritual guardians.
Charlotte's presence not only introduces the allure of material wealth and the spoils of the Empire, but also draws parallels between the value placed on foreign women and the power of firearms.
As a Pakeha Māori—a term denoting Europeans who adopted and assimilated into Māori culture—Charlotte becomes instrumental in augmenting Māori strength, acquiring strategic advantages, and ultimately countering the encroachment of Settler dominance. The installation's centerpiece, He Wai Ngunguru delves into the unique circumstances faced by women within this cultural context, juxtaposing European legal systems with Māori traditions and moral values. The results are electric and charged. Reihana’s filmic interpretation and masterful storytelling here drops us into this narrative with fresh eyes.
Curated by Nigel Borell
Learn more about the exhibition, artist and curator here.
$5 Local Discount (WDC Residents)
$10 General Admission