Acrylic on canvas
1690 x 1390mm (image); 1860 x 1560mm (frame)
This painting was made for the landmark exhibition Toi Tū Toi Ora (2020–21), held at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, and depicts the artist’s mother, Christina. It is based on a photograph taken during Christina’s first visit to her marae, Ōtākou, on the Otago Peninsula. She stands at the entrance to the wharenui, Tamatea. It looks rather as though she is about to embark on a journey. The painting is imbued with excitement but also tentativeness. The wall text from Toi Tū Toi Ora notes, ‘Green depicts this moment of introduction to discuss an ongoing relationship to one’s cultural heritage’.
Like her mother, the artist grew up disconnected by distance from Ōtākou. Until recently, she was based in Ōtepoti, in close proximity to the marae. She has been working to establish ties and trace her whakapapa. The portrait underscores the central role of such processes in reclaiming one’s identity. The wharenui is an embodiment of Green’s ancestors. A work that might initially seem to depict one family member in fact encompasses many.
Mum (May 1985) is in Green’s typical style, in which colours are made homogenous and details distilled. There is little sense of depth, and brushstrokes are minimised, creating an image that is noticeably flat. This mode of working emphasises composition and line. Both are carefully worked out, and serve to counteract the apparent simplicity of the work. The painting possesses the graphic strength of cartoon or comic book imagery, children’s drawings, and ‘naïve’ art. Green’s mother is elevated to the status of a heroine.
The effect is reinforced by the large scale, and the use of a grand, black museum frame not dissimilar to those found on portraits of Māori by C. F. Goldie. Green has long been interested in the ways in which portraiture is used to express the importance and power of individuals and institutions alike. In the past, she has replicated paintings of, among others, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and her family, Mākereti Papakura (or ‘Guide Maggie’), and Rēnata Tama-ki-Hikurangi Kawepō, one of Green’s tūpuna, who was famously painted by Gottfried Lindauer.
Ayesha Green, Folk Nationalism, City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 2 July to 15 October 2023
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
Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Tāmaki Makaurau, 5 December 2020 to 9 May 2021
Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from Jhana Millers, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, January 2021