Oil on board
595 x 595mm
Inscriptions: Robyn F. / Kahukiwa '71 [l.r.]
"Aroha" / from Red Cottage Gallery first one woman exhibition in Wellington by R. K. / 16.10.71 / L. J. Harvey / (1971–1987) [verso]
This elegantly restrained painting formed part of Robyn Kahukiwa’s first solo show, held at the Red Cottage Gallery in Te Whanganui-a-Tara in 1971. It is at once realist and symbolic, as much an embodiment of love, loss, and the comfort of kin as it is a depiction of actual people. It is not unreasonable to imagine the women as mourners at a tangihanga. But the painting can also be understood to portray a homecoming more broadly, alluding to the disconnection and sorrow felt by many Māori living away from their ancestral lands—whether overseas or simply in urban centres. (Kahukiwa herself was born in ‘diaspora’ in Australia, and only relocated to Aotearoa in early adulthood.)
Aroha is painted with a lyricism commensurate with its subject matter and characteristic of Kahukiwa’s early paintings. It is strongly distinct from a later work in the Fletcher Trust Collection, Tihe Mauri Ora, preceding the artist’s interest in overt political messaging and showing a wholly other kind of artistic treatment. There’s tension in the work, high emotion, but no chaos. It is replete with keenly observed and compelling details, such as the nape hairs on the woman at right and the expression on her half-visible face. The sense of comfort evident in the women embracing is underscored by the high horizon line and by the carved whare behind them, an embodiment of their whakapapa. Whānau and whenua enfold these women.
Aroha was formerly held in the collection of L. J. Harvey (possibly L. J. Harvey Ltd., Heretaunga Hastings?).