Oil on board
590 x 590mm (image); 750 x 740 x 50mm (frame)
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 elegant painting formed part of Robyn Kahukiwa’s first solo show, held at the Red Cottage Gallery in Te Whanganui-a-Tara in 1971. Like other early works by the artist, it combines realism and symbolism. It is not unreasonable to imagine the women depicted as mourners at a tangihanga. The painting might also be understood to portray a homecoming more broadly, and to allude 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.) Ultimately, the work is expressive of love, loss, and the comfort of kin.
Aroha is painted with a lyricism commensurate with its subject matter. It is strongly distinct from two later paintings by Kahukiwa in the Fletcher Trust Collection, Tihe Mauri Ora and Invasion, both of which are marked by more overtly political content. There’s tension in Aroha, deep emotion, but also calm. 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 security expressed by the embrace is underscored by the high horizon line and by the carved whare behind the figures, an embodiment of their whakapapa. Whānau and whenua enfold these women.
The second image shows Robyn Kahukiwa with Aroha and Te Rangimārie. It comes from an article in the Evening Post (10 September 1971).
Gathered Voices: Highlights from the Fletcher Trust Collection, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 15 September to 11 December 2022
Solo exhibition, Red Cottage Gallery, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 19 to 29 September 1971
Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from McCormack & McKellar, 6 November 2019, lot 41
Collection of L. J. Harvey (possibly L. J. Harvey Ltd., Heretaunga Hastings), purchased from the Red Cottage Gallery, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 16 October 1971