DAVIES, Shona Rapira;

Saint James Triptych

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Oil on board
665 x 1260mm; 1270 x 645mm; 1275 x 665mm

The Saint James Triptych centres on members of Shona Rapira Davies’ Ngātiwai ki Aotea whānau, reflecting on hui held to work through iwi business, including Treaty settlement processes. The figures are shown inside St James Anglican Church in Māngere Bridge. Davies notes, ‘I was overwhelmed visually by the old people present, the beautifully built scoria-formed walls and windows of the 158-year-old church, and the vivid red patterned carpet.’

The church was built by Tainui and the associated cemetery/urupā is of great importance. It is therefore a symbol of sovereignty and endurance. At the same time, it represents the impacts of colonisation on Māori. The considerable age of the church reinforces the decades that Ngātiwai ki Aotea has spent seeking redress for historical wrongs.

Davies has titled the panels of the work individually. The first panel is called The more things change – The more they stay the same, the second The lawyer and the hapless spy, and the third The relentless pursuit of justice. In relation to the last, the artist has observed, ‘Certain women in my family of every generation have fought for the lives of all the children of Aotea and when one has fallen another has risen to take their place. This panel portrays one of our current Tukaiaia [a sea-hawk, symbol of Ngātiwai].’

She has further commented on the triptych as a whole:

‘During my student years at the art school at Otago Polytechnic, I studied the western painters, the likes of J. B. C. Hoyte, Charles Heaphy, Petrus van der Velden, Sydney Parkinson, G. F. Angas. My interpretation of their collective and individual iconography was troubling to me, as was their interpretation of the native noble savage.’

‘In this work, I have taken the bits that stood out—e.g. drawings and paintings of the noble savage as grotesques or caricatures, the church as a symbol of power and brimming with self-righteousness. I inserted my whānau members into St James Church in Māngere, shaking the narrative, so to speak, so its false teeth would fall out.’

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Exhibition History

Gathered Voices: Highlights from the Fletcher Trust Collection, The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Whakatū Nelson, 19 August to 12 November 2023 (toured)

Shona Rapira Davies, The sound of one hand clapping, Bowen Galleries, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 2018


Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from Bowen Galleries, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 22 January 2023