Art Basel Hong Kong 2020

NOTE: The 2020 edition of Art Basel Hong Kong has been cancelled due to the outbreak of Coronavirus.

Starkwhite will present a solo exhibition by New Zealand photographer Fiona Pardington at Art Basel Hong Kong, 2020. The exhibition has been selected for the prestigious Kabinett section, which features just 30 solo or paired presentations by established and emerging artists.

Fiona Pardington’s work is project-based, articulated through series-based photographs exploring themes of memory, time, history, photographer and subject. By photographing taonga Māori (ancestral treasures), nature specimens and other museum artefacts, she revives their human and spiritual contexts, uniting postcolonial politics and reparative aesthetics – an approach that offers her a new way of thinking about politically engaged art. 

She says: “I choose not to tread the deeply tracked paths of the wrongs of the past; rather I reach into the past to reveal pre-existing cultural integrity, Māori lifeways and spiritual power of the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand. My way is kaupapa Māori/Māori ideology – a philosophical doctrine and a life based on incorporating the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values of Māori society within my practice. I remain in contact with the integrity of my people, pushed behind the blighted histories of cultural obliteration and destructive colonial process.”

The Exhibition will include photographs from her series The Pressure of Sunlight Falling and TIKI: Orphans of Māoriland, along with new photographs of the extinct huia bird.

The Pressure of Sunlight falling (2010) is a powerful series of large-scale photographs that feature life casts including those of indigenous peoples of the South Pacific taken during one of French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville’s nineteenth century voyages. The photographs depict casts of human heads made by the medical scientist and phrenologist Pierre-Marie Alexander Dumoutiere who accompanied d’Urveille. They trace the path of their voyage between 1837 and 1849 and the casts are in the collection of the Musee de l’Homme in Paris. The people who agreed to the arduous task of having the casts made included Maori chiefs and men and women from communities throughout the Pacific.

In this series Pardington examines the ways in which the photography of objects and proto-photographic medium of casting can register empathy and the presence of former lives. Her photographs explore the meanings, histories and functions of nineteenth-century life casts while examining the unique, emotive power of photographic portraiture. A suite of photographs from this series was included in the Oceania exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts (London) in 2019 and Musee du Quai Branly (Paris) in 2020. They were also shown in the Biennale of Sydney, THE BEAUTY OF DISTANCE, 2010

TIKI: Orphans of Māoriland (2019) is a new series of photographs of tiki that bear a superficial resemblance to heitiki – the well-known and revered Māori figurine, usually carved from pounamu (greenstone) and worn as an heirloom taonga (treasure) around the neck. However, to eyes familiar with genuine taonga, these objects clearly are not that.

When Fiona Pardington found these unusual objects from the Wellcome Collection in London, which are on loan to the city’s Science Museum Group, she was struck by their mystery. Neither taonga, nor mass-produced trinket, they are as difficult to identify as their creators. Acquired from London auction houses, these faux hei-tiki were probably created for the Pākehā or international market – art historian Roger Blackely calls it the ‘curio economy’ – that flourished 1880-1910. ‘Maoriland’ was the poetic name for the romantic late colonial fiction they represent. It is impossible to say whether they were carved by entrepreneurial Māori amateurs, Pākehā enthusiasts (or forgers), or German lapidaries for export back to New Zealand for tourist souvenirs – perhaps all of the above. Pardington felt an affinity with their personality, hybridity and in-betweeness. She re-appropriates and breathes life into them with her camera and reparative vision, giving them dignity as the orphans of a complex history of interaction, exchange and exploitation.

TIKI: Orphans of Māoriland will be exhibited at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu in 2020.

The presentation at Art Basel Hong Kong will also include new work from Pardington’s ongoing series of photographs of the extinct huia bird – works that are imbued with the profound sense of loss she feels for extinct species and others under threat. Few are aware of how many bird species have been lost since people first reached New Zealand less than 800 years ago. The number of named extinct species continues to increase and currently stands at 53 species – an appalling indictment of the impacts of humans on New Zealand’s biota.

The huia was a type of wattlebird found only in New Zealand. The species was hunted to extinction in the early 1900s due to the demand for mounted specimens by collectors and museums, and for its feathers as fashion accessories. In her new photographs, taxidermied huia are resurrected and recreated as rich and lustrous portraits. Pardington also signals her interest in working beyond the confines of photography with a suite of gold-plated, bronze huia skulls that stand on marble plinths, reinforcing the contemporary museum-like display in the booth. 

Fiona Pardington is of Maori (Ngāi Tahu, Kati Mamoe and Ngāti Kahungunu) and Scottish (Clan Cameron of Erracht) descent. She has a Doctorate in Fine Arts from Auckland University. She was made a Laureate of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand in 2015, Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by France in 2016 and a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2017. Her work has been included in many exhibitions in New Zealand and overseas, including: Oceania, Royal Academy of Art, London (2018) and Musee du Quai Branly, Paris (2019); Fiona Pardington: A Beautiful Hesitation (2015-2016), a survey exhibition organized by City Gallery Wellington; Honolulu Biennial Middle of Now|Here, 2017; Biennale of Sydney, THE BEAUTY OF DISTANCE, (2010). She has been the recipient of many residencies, most recently at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Canada in 2019, funded by Creative New Zealand.



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