Chevron Hassett - reviewed
The Children of Māui
Meanwhile Gallery, Wellington
15 February - 4 March 2019
Reviewed by Matariki Williams for PhotoForum, March 2019
One of the first times I met artist Chevron Hassett (Ngāti Porou, Rongomaiwāhine, Ngāti Kahungunu, Pākehā), he showed me photos he had been working on after a trip to his tūrangawaewae on the East Coast. One of these was a photo of two young boys with a horse, Pikopiko, and Chev relayed that when he was talking to them, they asked him what his horse’s name was, the assumption being that he had a horse at all. Within this small anecdote is so much more than what appears on the surface, it is a conversation sure, but it speaks to the history of moving, of urban drifts of migration, of enduring connections to homeland.
This photograph has resurfaced as part of the exhibition The Children of Māui at Wellington’s artist-run Meanwhile Gallery, and the surrounding kōrero remains. It was during this kōrero a couple of years ago that Chev shared how he composed this photo, in particular, how he was mindful of ensuring the maunga was in the boys’ background. The composition aiding his exploration as to whether photographs could be seen, or constructed to be, contemporary pou, carved posts that include our ancestral figures and histories. It was interesting to note that the exhibition included the installation of a poutokomanawa made in collaboration with Elliot Gonzales, titled Te Manawa Tapu.
This was not however, what first caught my eye in the gallery. That would be three glass bowls placed throughout the room, objects that were not mentioned in the accompanying handout. Being in Aotearoa, bowls of water are not an uncommon presence in museum and gallery spaces, oftentimes acting as a means of whakanoa, of recalibrating tapu, when coming out of an exhibition whose content includes objects or stories that directly relate to kaupapa that is tapu. I asked Chev about their presence in the gallery and he explained that the water was collected during his trips to take the photos: one is from his moana, one from his awa of Waiapu, and the other from a sacred water on his maunga, Hikurangi. The inclusion of water in the exhibition had a different role to play here than that of whakanoa, and its lack of mention in the handout makes their inclusion feel more implicit; their need to be present was so evident that they didn’t need to be mentioned. Regardless, their inclusion brought a tactility to the images of water, its presence reinforcing the connection that Māori have to land; it is internalised, it can be abstracted by distance but its importance will never cease.
Returning to Te Manawa Tapu, this was a surprise to see as I had never known Chev’s practice to include three dimensional objects, and also to see how the idea of a contemporary pou could translate into a structure made of MDF. (1) A triangular construction, referencing the Polynesian triangle, the structural integrity supported by a repeated triangular shape, it has two photographs inset: a misty silhouette where the peak of Hikurangi meets the clouds is on a vertical side, and the rippling waters of Te Moana nui a Kiwa that face Hinerupe marae along the bottom side of the triangle. Each of these photographs is bordered by symbols carved around their edges, symbols that reference patterns of whakairo, and emphasise the landscapes depicted. The third side of the poutokomanawa features a piece of text and is similarly bordered with marks reminiscent of patterns found in tukutuku panels including the stepped representation of male genealogy in a poutama pattern. My favourite part of Te Manawa Tapu are the large X’s that suggest a sense of notching akin to those used to create tukutuku. Here, they are of course inverted to create this X there is a removal rather than an addition, something the late Cath Brown (Ngāi Tahu) would note with the differing approaches to creating art with whakairo and raranga.
But I want to return to the horses. For me, these horses are an ultimate evocation of home. With my whānau being from Rūātoki, a drive home means adhering to the particularities of driving in a rohe where horses are everywhere. In Rūātoki, road signs urge drivers to “KIA TUPATO I NGĀ KARAREHE” (be aware of animals), with accompanying symbols of a horse and a cow. My last visit home included a swim in our river Ōhinemataroa, my nephews rode horses down to the river, made fun of each other’s riding ability, and took the horses for a swim. It was an idyllic visit to our whenua, our land that was fought for, and held.
This is the power of Chev’s photos, they speak to a universality of migrated Māori experience, I can view images of his home and they resonate so much with my own. In one, there is a lone horse in an undulating field of green, lit by a muted sun – it conjures a home that he isn’t even capturing. Three weeks after being in Rūātoki, his photos compel me to rethink the halcyon memories I’ve attached to home, echoing Chev’s comments on his approach to taking photos: “I have to learn about all the cultural objects prior or it won't come out the same. That means for every photo I had to learn a lot about before I took the photo.” (2)
The exhibition handout includes a quote from rangatira Te Kani-a-Takirau which he said in response to being asked to take the mantle as the first Māori king. To this he replied, “Ehara taku maunga a Hikurangi he maunga nekeneke, he maunga tū tonu”, for Te Kani-a-Takirau, his rangatiratanga was steadfast and did not need move to be King. What he encapsulated in this whakatauakī has become synonymous with his people of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti and Ngāti Porou, fierce in their iwi identities. To counter that, and challenge that, is the urban drift that is a reality of contemporary Māori society, the mountain does not move but the people do. Our connections to home, though the line can be crackly, are still there, and Chev’s work captures that.
Medium Density Fibreboard
Powerful Portraits by a Young Māori Photographer. Vice.Com
Matariki Williams (Tūhoe, Ngāti Hauiti, Taranaki, Ngāti Whakaue) is a Curator Mātauranga Māori at Te Papa. She is also the Editor - Kaupapa Māori at the Pantograph Punch, has guest edited at Radio New Zealand's The Wireless, and from 2015-7, with Nina Finigan, ran the website Tusk – Emergent Culture, a platform for emergent cultural practitioners to write about the GLAM sector in their own voice. She is a Kāhui Kaitiaki representative on the Museums Aotearoa Board, and Kaihautū Māori on the board of the National Digital Forum. Most importantly, she is mum to Whaitiri and Te Ahuru.